I’m here in Bangkok at a gathering of hundreds of tuna business officials, policy-makers and even a few environmental advocates like myself. It’s been a long week of discussion about the future of the industry, including a lot about what we all call “sustainability”- fish for the future. Some of the key take away points of this conference are that:
- Every part of the tuna industry has a role to play in ensuring that there will be a viable tuna industry in the years to come.
- Tuna stocks are in decline. The tuna catches have been shrinking for several years even though there are more boats with ever more efficient fishing gear.
- Prices are very high. With the declining availability of tuna and increasing demand, the prices are going higher and higher, a key challenge for consumers and processors alike.
So what should the future of the tuna industry look like? Simply – fewer boats, more fish. This was our message to the conference – we need fewer industrial-sized fishing boats chasing dwindling tuna populations. If we want fish for the future, we need to change the way we manage our oceans today.
The tuna industry has to come up with a roadmap that will reduce fishing capacity. There are just too many boats and not enough fish. Large mechanized super boats are scooping up millions of tons of tuna every year. The maximum amount of tuna that the oceans can provide without compromising its ability to replenish itself is being reached in tuna populations all over the world. The most destructive fishing methods are catching too many juvenile tuna, before they’ve had a chance to reproduce and reverse the impacts of overfishing.
Greenpeace is working around the world to advance solutions to the oceans crisis. Too often, initiatives such as the creation of sustainable fishing industries are shouldered by the coastal states whose people depend on the oceans for food and jobs, such as the Pacific Island nations and the Maldives. The collapse of tuna populations would hit these states the hardest.
I have been having discussions with some of the conference attendees over the past few days. Some seem indifferent to our presence, but I have been pleasantly surprised that some have said privately that they are glad that Greenpeace is here. We have a lot in common with these industry officials: we all want ample fish and living oceans in the future. We sometimes disagree about how to make that vision a reality.
We are glad that we came too. Time will tell if the industry will take our message ‘fewer boats, more fish’ seriously. Around the world, we are starting to see the beginning of a shift in the industry. Tuna brands, retailers and consumers alike are increasingly sourcing responsibly caught tuna and the market for sustainable tuna products is growing. We will continue to campaign for an end to overfishing and end the destruction that is keeping the industry fishing itself out of existence. The industry can expect us to continue to monitor them on land and at sea, taking action to ensure that there will be fish for our common future.
Mark Dia is the Greenpeace Southeast Asia oceans campaign manager based in Manila, Philippines.