13 May 2013 Flotilla Accompanies Esperanza in Mauritius

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is accompanied by a flotilla of artisan fishermen in their boats as she heads to Grand Baie in Mauritius. Greenpeace will deliver a message to the IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) delegates highlighting the concerns of unsustainable fishing practices in the Indian Ocean. © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace


Forest destruction is visible; you can see the trees disappearing, the animals torn from their homes. But ocean destruction is hidden; our planet, which is predominantly blue, is under threat by industrialised fishing fleets, weak legislation and poor fisheries management. So much of what is actually happening in the ocean is not visible to us.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza spent two months in the Indian Ocean documenting and exposing not only the loopholes in fisheries management but also illegal and undocumented fishing practices, which break the possibility of having a transparent chain of custody. We took our findings and proposal to the annual Indian Ocean Tuna Commission which took place in Mauritius last week.

At its culmination on Friday, Greenpeace International condemned the lack of action by Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) members to halt the decline of the region's most vulnerable tuna species and the failure to adopt adequate measures to protect sharks. The proposal to cut the catches of the region’s most threatened Albacore tuna was dismissed and data is only set to be reviewed in 2014.

Although a positive commitment was made – driven by the Maldives – to prevent stock depletion in the future, the current situation leaves little room for optimism. The Indian Ocean's tuna stocks hang in the balance as fishing intensifies and the region currently lacks the data needed to properly manage its fishing capacity and effort.

Even though South Africa is a non-contracting member of the IOTC, it is set to become a member in 2014. This is an important move for South Africa as one of the strongest economies in the region and also for South African consumers who want to know where their tuna is coming from, and if they can trace the chain of custody.

Is our canned tuna being fished by Philippine and Thai vessels in the Indian Ocean and later sold back to us?

Because there is so much to know about tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean, we need to hold companies and retailers accountable for succinct labelling of their canned tuna; information such as ingredients, area of catchment, catchment method and parent company should be available to us. If a label of canned tuna lists ‘fish’ under ingredients, what are we really eating?

Further, if there is no catchment area or method mentioned, how will we know that what we are eating is in fact dolphin- or shark-friendly and comes from an area of ocean that is not being depleted?

The starting point in changing your tuna is to choose Skipjack tuna (Euthynnus Pelamis) as your preferred choice and if you can, tuna that has been caught by pole and line fishing – the most sustainable way.

Here’s to encouraging companies to move from ‘fishy business’ to ‘strictly tuna’ business. Watch this space!