Sari "Blondfin" Tolvanen, coordinator of Greenpeace's campaign to defend the Pacific Ocean.
Retailers have a major role in protecting the world’s oceans - they sell the majority of the world’s caught fish to the public. One might think that they would act to ensure consumers are not unsuspectingly eating fish species (and seafood industries) into extinction. However, a lot of what goes down the check-out line these days is still, in most parts of the world, unsustainable. For years, Greenpeace has been urging retailers to step up and not sell species that are overfished and caught with unsustainable fishing methods. By forcing changes in the fishing industry, retailers can actively help us create healthy, living oceans for future generations.
I am attending the WCPFC meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii all week listening to major fishing nations, coastal states and the Pacific Island Countries discuss ways to better manage the Pacific region’s dwindling tuna populations and the waters that are home to so much other marine life. It is day three and there haven’t been many concrete decisions made here to address the oceans crisis posed by rapidly disappearing tuna. It’s amazing that these meetings take place and many people have no idea that they are even taking place- strange given that so much is at stake. Hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on our oceans- and tuna is a key food source for so many. In just six decades, we’ve wiped out so many tuna— a food security and economic disaster in the making unless bodies like the WCPFC act now. What usually happens in these meetings is that fishing nations are lobbied by their fishing industries, bow down to this pressure and compromise on discussions about fishing quotas: putting further in jeopardy the future of fish, our oceans and eventually, the people who need them for food and income.
But, there is good news! Today, we announced that several supermarkets in Germany, Austria and Australia have committed to not sell tinned tuna caught using one of the most wasteful fishing methods out there: purse seine fishing on Fish Aggregation Devices or FADs. The problem with products caught with FADs is that along with the individual species the fishing boats set out to catch, juveniles of other tuna species get netted and killed, as well as turtles, sharks and other marine life.
Just check out this picture of a poor whale shark on a tuna purse seine vessel. Sometimes, whale sharks are even used as FADs themselves as they are slow swimmers and tuna gather around them for protection. Just a few weeks ago, we released results of genetic testing that showed many tinned tuna products contain a mixed of species and sometimes different species to what their label says. All this is also linked to FADs- which are indiscriminate as juveniles of different species get caught and mixed into the holds of the ships and once frozen become indistinguishable.
We hope the WCPFC delegates hear the news of increasing consumer and retailer demand for sustainable tuna and make decisions that can help guarantee future supplies of fish. Banning the use of FADs in purse seine fisheries would help make this a reality, as would creating marine reserves for tunas and other marine life. Let’s see if the Pacific and the WCPFC can step up to the challenge the retailers have now issued – provide us with sustainable tuna: necessary for the future of the Pacific and its people!
Watch this space: we will report the outcomes, in the meantime please make sure you choose and request your retailers for sustainably caught tuna!
Sari Tolvanen is a Greenpeace International oceans campaigner, originally from Finland and currently based in Amsterdam.