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US Testing Our Gulf Of Mexico Bluefin In Australia

A team of scientists has come all the way from the United States to Port Lincoln to study southern bluefin tuna.

The Lincoln Marine Science Center is the only place in the world the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can conduct research on fresh bluefin tuna samples as part of its study into the Deepwater Horizon BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill’s effect on tuna stocks.

NOAA research toxicologist John Incardona is heading the team, which will be collecting and studying tuna samples for the rest of this week.

“There’s no captive tuna population for Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is why we’ve come all the way across the world,” he said.

The US government commissioned the study as part of its natural resource damage assessment, to uncover whether the oil could affect tuna heart health long-term, which in turn could reduce spawning in the Atlantic Ocean.

The work stems from studies into the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, which found the polycyclic hydrocarbons in crude oil impacted herring and salmon populations.

“We’re using molecular biology to look at the effects on fish health,” Dr. Incardona said.

“In the big picture we're trying to find out if the oil killed the tuna and how many fish may have been lost because of exposure to oil.”

NOAA has been monitoring tuna in the gulf since the April 2010 disaster, by collecting larval samples during the spring spawning season, analyzing reports from scientific observers aboard fishing vessels, and tracking the movement of tagged bluefin tuna.

The gulf is one of the only known spawning grounds for the western stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna, and scientists are concerned about possible impacts of oil and dispersants used to clean up spilled oil on this lucrative species.

The work by NOAA researchers will be shared with other international experts and will be considered during efforts to evaluate stock status.

NOAA and the Food and Drug Administration are also continuing laboratory tests to ensure bluefin tuna and other seafood products are safe for consumers.