Red Gold: The Managed Extinction of the Giant Bluefin Tuna

Red Gold: The Managed Extinction of the Giant Bluefin Tuna

by Jennifer E. Telesca


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Illuminating the conditions for global governance to have precipitated the devastating decline of one of the ocean’s most majestic creatures

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the world’s foremost organization for managing and conserving tunas, seabirds, turtles, and sharks traversing international waters. Founded by treaty in 1969, ICCAT stewards what has become under its tenure one of the planet’s most prominent endangered fish: the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Called “red gold” by industry insiders for the exorbitant price her ruby-colored flesh commands in the sushi economy, the giant bluefin tuna has crashed in size and number under ICCAT’s custodianship.

With regulations to conserve these sea creatures in place for half a century, why have so many big bluefin tuna vanished from the Atlantic? In Red Gold, Jennifer E. Telesca offers unparalleled access to ICCAT to show that the institution has faithfully executed the task assigned it by international law: to fish as hard as possible to grow national economies. ICCAT manages the bluefin not to protect them but to secure export markets for commodity empires—and, as a result, has become complicit in their extermination.

The decades of regulating fish as commodities have had disastrous consequences. Amid the mass extinction of all kinds of life today, Red Gold reacquaints the reader with the splendors of the giant bluefin tuna through vignettes that defy technoscientific and market rationales. Ultimately, this book shows, changing the way people value marine life must come not only from reforming ICCAT but from transforming the dominant culture that consents to this slaughter.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781517908515
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jennifer E. Telesca is assistant professor of environmental justice in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute.

Table of Contents



Prologue. The Life and Death of Bluefin Tuna: Homage to an Ocean Giant 

Introduction. The Very Elder Gods Become Red Gold: Value on the High Seas

1. A History of the Bluefin Tuna Trade: The Emergence of Commodity Empires

2. A “Stock” Splits: Profiteering through International Law

3. Saving the Glamour Fish: The Limits of Environmental Activism

4. Alibis for Extermination: The Manipulation of Fisheries Science

5. The Libyan Caper: A Rogue Player Wins the Game

Conclusion. All Hands on Deck: Confronting the Sixth Extinction


Appendix A. Contracting Parties to the ICCAT Convention, 1967-2012 

Appendix B. Allocations in Export Quotas for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Appendix C. An Organizational Chart of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas through 2012




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