Part memoir, part scientific exploration, part biography, Karen Pinchin’s cautionary and riveting Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas illuminates the plight of the Atlantic bluefin tuna and the fishermen and scientists who’ve spent their lives studying, tagging and working to save the species.
Although we often marvel over tales of great white sharks and other predators of the sea, most people only think of bluefin tuna when they order sushi, seldom considering its beauty and power beyond the dinner plate. Pinchin opens with a paean to this apex predator of the oceans: “To stand beside a just-landed giant bluefin, still slick from salt water, feels akin to standing beside a natural marvel like Niagara Falls or an erupting volcano. There’s beauty, but also danger.” The book follows one bluefin, dubbed Amelia (after Amelia Earhart) from the cold waters of the Atlantic, where she was first tagged in 2004, to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean, where she was killed in 2018. In between this coverage, Pinchin takes us through the history of commercial fishing for bluefin, as well as the politics and science that have frequently collided in attempts to preserve the tuna from extinction.
Early in his career as a boat captain, fisherman Al Anderson recognized the precipitous decline of the bluefin population and soon began chartering trips off Rhode Island where his customers catch, tag and release tuna—including Amelia. In 1990, Anderson wrote The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, an oral history peppered with his own memories of fishing, and To Catch a Tuna, a “how-to guide for aspiring tuna fishermen.” We also meet Molly Lutcavage, whose research was the first of its kind to gather and analyze data on bluefin, and Carl Safina, the author of Song for the Blue Ocean, who proposed that the bluefin be listed as endangered.
While Pinchin avers that “we are collectively only ever a few terrible choices from wiping out any ocean species,” her conclusion is optimistic: “The future of Atlantic bluefin tuna has hinged on a series of butterfly-wing events. . . . Those moments all mattered, and those moments are still being made.” Kings of Their Own Ocean enthralls, instructs and is a must-read for readers concerned about the future of our oceans and the creatures within them.