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NEFSC Tuna and Billfish Researcher Adds Expertise to IUCN Red List Study

Bruce B. Collette, a senior scientist at the NEFSC’s National Systematics Laboratory located in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, has spent his career studying scombrids (tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels) and billfishes (swordfish and marlins) since he joined NOAA Fisheries Service more than 50 years ago.  He is considered one of the leading ichthyologists in the world, and is an internationally recognized expert on the systematics of fishes, particularly tunas and mackerels.  Systematics is the study of living organisms, their diversity, and the evolutionary relationships among organisms.

He has been honored nationally and internationally for his contributions to the understanding of epipelagic fishes, or those species living in the upper regions of the ocean. Twelve species of fishes and four invertebrate species have been named in his honor, the most recent a new species of inshore halfbeak endemic to Bermuda published in December 2010.

Dr. Bruce B. Collette
Bruce Collette at his desk at NSL
Credit: Shelley Dawicki, NOAA

Although Collette officially marked 50 years of service to NOAA’s Fisheries Service in April 2010, which began after he completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1960, his introduction to the agency actually began three years earlier while he was a graduate student.  In 1957 he participated in one of the first exploratory fishing cruises investigating tuna resources off the coast of New England on the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s fisheries survey vessel Delaware.

Since then, much of Collette’s professional career has been involved with the anatomy, systematics, and evolution of tunas and other members of the family Scombridae. When asked to chair a Species Survival Commission Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Collette says he could not refuse. In February 2011 he was among the 17 marine fishery biologists from four nations (US, Japan, Spain, and Brazil) to meet at the Florida headquarters of the International Game Fish Association for the 4th IUCN Red List Workshop to integrate previous assessments of the threat status to 18 species of tunas and billfishes.

“These species had been evaluated at previous IUCN Red List workshops in Peru (2008), Taiwan (2009) and Brazil (2010),” noted Collette, Chair of the IUCN Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group, created in 2009 to assess the world’s scombrid and billfish species under IUCN criteria. “Half of them were widespread species that needed to have the results of the regional workshop evaluations combined to produce a global threat assessment. The other half  were species that needed additional review due to acquisition of new data.”

Bruce Collette speaks with visitors to the Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall exhibit and the "Ask a Scientist" station.
Bruce Collette speaks with visitors to the Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall exhibit and the "Ask a Scientist" station.

An assessment of the status of global tuna and billfishes was published online July 7, 2011 in Science, with Collette as the lead author.  Entitled “High Value and Long-Lived: Double Jeopardy for Tuna and Billfishes,” the paper provides the first comprehensive assessment of the threat status to the world’s 61 species of scombrids and billfishes under the IUCN Red List criteria.  

Preliminary conclusions are that about two thirds of the species are of Least Concern, 18% do not yet have sufficient data for adequate conclusions, and 11% are under some degree of threat, with another 6% listed as near threatened.

 Final results will be published on the IUCN Red List this fall after peer review of the draft results.  The final version of the Science Express paper will also be published at a later date.  

Publication of the IUCN’s Tuna and Billfish Specialists group’s results this week are timely. The third joint meeting of the five tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) responsible for developing international conservation and management measures will be held July 11-15 in La Jolla, California.  The first joint meeting was held in Kobe, Japan, in 2007 and the second, known as Kobe II, was held in 2009 in San Sebastian, Spain.

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