The Commodification of Bluefin Tuna: The Historical Transformation of the Mediterranean Fishery

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Employing a political-economic approach, we examine the Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries in the Mediterranean. In doing so, we highlight historical transformations in fishing operations given the commodification of bluefin tuna and the growth imperative of capitalism. Fieldwork in Sicily and Sardinia, in-depth interviews, and primary and secondary data inform this analysis. Within the global agro-food system, traditional trap fisheries that operated for centuries have diminished. Industrialized fishing and tuna-ranching operations - that make use of high-tech, capital-intensive methods - have reorganized production, including the labour process, the capture of fish and the lifecycles of bluefin tuna. In an attempt to profit from the exploitation of the most prized fish in the world, capitalist fishing operations are harvesting bluefin tuna at a rate that exceeds the reproductive capabilities of the existing stock, which has had negative consequences for the traditional trap fishery and may lead to the collapse of this fishery. Modern capitalist social relations have destabilized an ecological system that has long been coupled with human systems within a few decades, with extensive socio-ecological consequences. Aquaculture, as a proposed solution, is a technological fix, which cannot resolve fundamental ecological contradictions.