Red Gold

Red Gold

The Managed Extinction of the Giant Bluefin Tuna

Jennifer E. Telesca

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

304 Pages, 6 x 8 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517908515
  • Published: April 21, 2020
  • eBook
  • 9781452962337
  • Published: April 21, 2020


Red Gold

The Managed Extinction of the Giant Bluefin Tuna

Jennifer E. Telesca

ISBN: 9781517908515

Publication date: April 21st, 2020

304 Pages


8 x 5

"Both unusually thorough and unusually heartfelt, Red Gold is filled with high quality factual detail yet is framed with graceful, thoughtfully considered language. As close as I’ve been to this extraordinary fish as a living creature and as the object of intense debate and conflicting policies over the years, I admire the job Jennifer Telesca has pulled off. I also learned a lot."—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Becoming Wild

"Engaging and well-argued, Red Gold is an exemplary documentation of how bad-faith science conducted at the behest of corporate interests provides cover for the over-exploitation of ‘natural resources.’"—Daniel Pauly, author of Vanishing Fish: Shifting Baselines and the Future of Global Fisheries

"Red Gold offers a deep and disturbing portrait of the intersecting impacts of the global food chain, international regulation, and ocean conservation. Jennifer E. Telesca’s powerful prose and analytic insight chart the drama of human-induced species decline in the name of conservation. Combining ethnography, political economy, legal studies, and scientific research with fast-paced storytelling, she provides an intimate account of ocean governance and environmental loss."—Brenda Chalfin, author of Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa

"Jennifer E. Telesca’s wide-ranging study of the giant bluefin tuna challenges many deeply held dogmas. We overfish because of the tragedy of the commons and think the solution is regulation. But Telesca argues that we are regulating our way to extinction. The tragedy is not of the commons, but of commodification. The drive to extinction will not stop until we value these animals as fellow travelers on this planet, rather than as resources from whom we can extract value."—Dale Jamieson, director, Center for Environmental and Animal Protection, New York University

"In his decades of reviewing environmental policy literature, this reviewer has encountered few books that more passionately or poetically express grief over loss of a species than this extended epitaph for the giant warm-blooded Atlantic bluefin tuna."—CHOICE

"It is worth taking a deep dive into Red Gold"—Public Books

"Jennifer Telesca, in her first ethnographic monograph, writes with exuberance and determination as she examines the geoeconomics of Atlantic Bluefin tuna capture fisheries management. Using Atlantic Bluefin tuna as her ethnographic subject, Telesca follows the fish on her breathtaking travels across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and through a long history of capture by human societies."—Political and Legal Anthropology Review 

"Telesca brilliantly analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of institutions engineered for economic and political ends. Red Gold can be read as an excellent ethnography and sociology of science of international deliberations, marine policymaking, and fisheries science."—American Anthropologist

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.

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



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