Tuna is one of the world's favourite fish. It provides a critical part of the diet of millions of people across the globe. It is also the core of the luxury sashimi markets. The five main commercially harvested tuna are: skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, albacore and bluefin.
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Tuna are incredible creatures. Highly migratory, they travel thousands of miles over their lifetimes. Despite weighing up to 700 kg, the majestic bluefin can accelerate faster than a Porsche and can swim as fast as 43mph - some species travel from North American to European waters several times each year. Yellowfin have been recorded travelling from the US Pacific coast to Japan, they travel at an average speed of ten miles per hour, but can reach up to 50mph. A bigeye tuna has been recorded diving 250 metres in less than one minute - see if you can do better!
Tuna are in trouble
But globally tuna populations are in trouble. Many species are endangered or critically endangered. There simply aren't enough fish to sustain the world's voracious appetite for tuna. Rampant over-fishing and pirates stealing tuna are pushing the ocean's "natural torpedoes" to the brink of extinction.
Bigeye and yellowfin are fully exploited or over exploited in all oceans - they are in serious trouble in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, where they were relatively healthy just a few years ago. Stocks of the magnificent bluefin, the most iconic and valuable of all tuna species, are on the brink of collapse. In 1999, Greenpeace recorded how Mediterranean bluefin had declined by 80 percent.
And it's getting worse. Advances in technology mean large ships - floating factories - are now able to take as much tuna in 2 days as whole countries can take in a year. Increasing practices of tuna ranching are also further aggravating the crisis.
True cost of tuna
The biggest tuna fishery in terms of volume is skipjack - the tuna most likely to end up in cans. While skipjack is not yet overfished, if fishing continues at current rates it won't be able to sustain itself. What's more, the methods used to net skipjack all too often catch young yellowfin and bigeye, threatening these species further. Yellowfin, a much more commercially valuable species, makes up 35 percent of the world's catch. The majestic bluefin only represents 1.5 percent of the landed volume of tuna, but its dollar value is astronomical. In 2001, a single bluefin tuna set an all time record when it sold for US$173,600 in Japan.
Numerous other marine life are hooked and netted in the global tuna fisheries with 100 million sharks, and tens of thousands of turtles killed every year causing devastation to the entire marine ecosystems.
Pirate fishing is also rampant in high value tuna fisheries literally stealing tuna from the plates of some of the poorest people in the world. But even the legal tuna fisheries are partaking in the robbery. The so called "sweetheart deals" fishing nations and rich multinational corporations negotiate with coastal states for access to fish tuna in their waters are incredibly unfair. Only around 5 percent of the value of the tuna is given to the resource owners, often denying coastal communities much-needed employment and neglecting the responsibilities to fish responsibly.
We have the solution - Marine Reserves now!
Luckily, we have the solution - a network of marine reserves - national parks at sea; areas closed to all extractive uses, such as fishing and mining. These protected areas need to cover forty percent of the world's oceans. Marine reserves provide a safe haven for marine life. And if they are properly designed to cover crucial breeding and spawning grounds, they also work for tuna and species that migrate over vast distances.
Marine reserves can help save tuna, ecosystems, and ultimately the fishing industry. After all, the fishing industry has a pretty miserable future if there's no fish left to, well, fish...
If we want tuna tomorrow, we need marine reserves today.
Greenpeace's tuna campaign is currently calling for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean bluefin fishery, until stocks recover - and for 40 percent of the Mediterranean to be designated as marine reserves. In the Pacific, urgent measures including halving the amount of tuna taken, a ban on transferring fish at sea, and the creation of marine reserves in key areas of international waters must be taken to save the Pacific tuna fisheries and the tuna populations themselves from collapse.
Retailers must ensure they only sell legal, sustainable tuna
Supermarket retailers across the world from Norway to New Zealand and USA to Spain are being asked by Greenpeace to answer the hard questions: Where does our tuna come from? Is it sustainable? Is it caught from an area where developing countries are being ripped off? Is it stolen?
We are asking them to make sure that they know where their tuna originates, from boat to shelf, and commit to only sell tuna which is caught sustainably, by small-scale developing country fleets or under agreements which are fair to the people of the Pacific.