TOKYO — The latest scientific assessment paints a likely bleak future for the Pacific bluefin tuna, a sushi lovers' favorite whose population has dropped by more than 97 percent from its historic levels.

A draft summary of a report by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean seen by The Associated Press shows the current population of bluefin tuna is estimated at 2.6 percent of its "unfished" size. A previous assessment put the population at an already dire 4.2 percent.

Overfishing has continued despite calls to reduce catches to allow the species to recover. In some areas, bluefin tuna is harvested at triple the levels considered to be sustainable.

"The situation is really as bad as it appears," said Amanda Nickson, director for Global Tuna Conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Limits imposed after the previous estimates actually allowed some countries to up their catches, she said.

"If those managers again fail to act in a conservation-minded way this time, it may be time for other actions, such as an international trade ban or complete fishing moratorium," Nickson said.

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