Making tuna sustainable

Following recent tests into the contents of tuna tins, Greenpeace UK has just launched a new tinned tuna sustainability ranking to encourage major retailers to provide tuna that is as possible.

Pole and Line Fishermen Catch Tuna

Fishermen use pole and line fishing method to catch skipjack tuna. Pole and line fishing is a selective and therefore more sustainable way to catch tuna as only fish of a certain size are caught, leaving juveniles to grow to spawning age and replenish the stock in the future. Small bait fish are thrown over the side of the boat to lure the tuna to the water surface. The fishermen use the acceleration of the fish as they race to get their prey, hook them and fling them onto the ship's flat deck.

What is sustainable Tuna?

Tuna caught using the pole and line method -- literally catching each fish with a fishing rod -- is a far more sustainable way of getting tuna to the tin. The more widely used method involves luring tuna with fish aggregation devices (FADs) and scooping them up indiscriminately with big purse seine nets. The problem with this method is the bycatch: juvenile tuna, sharks, rays and other marine life is also caught up in the seine nets and pulled onto boats.

Ensuring sustainable fisheries is one part of achieving healthy oceans; the other is protecting larger areas of ocean in marine reserves that will include the protection of migratory species like tuna. But progress towards a global network of marine reserves has been too slow.

Support for Marine Reserves

In the Pacific – where some of the most healthy tuna stocks remain – Greenpeace is fighting to close the international waters surrounding the Pacific Island States (‘Pacific Commons’)  to all tuna fishing as a step towards their establishment as the world’d first high seas marine reserve. This is a move that some fishing nations such as Korea, the US and Taiwan have been opposing in the past.

Support by retailers, restaurants and tuna traders across the world is needed to ensure that the market dries up for tuna coming from the proposed closed areas. This will make it easier for the political negotiations to create marine reserves.

Taiwan has the largest tuna long-line fleets in the region and despite them recently agreeing to closing some high seas areas to purse seine fishing – they have not agreed to take their long liners out of these important conservation areas. The political steps to achieve full closures of the Pacific Commons including long-line fishing will be difficult.

On Greenpeace UKs rankings, the international tuna brand Princes is by far the worst offender. Ironically, or perhaps to intentionally cover-up its practices, Princes is actually a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). The ISSF's mission is to “undertake science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health” -- something Princes clearly isn't putting into practice.

Although Princes says on their tins that they are “fully committed to fishing methods which protect the marine environment and its species”, they continue to source tuna from fleets using FADs and purse seine nets for all their products. Princes is essentially responsible for masses of deaths of endangered sharks, endangered turtles, juvenile tunas and other threatened marine life. It seems it is not just time for Princes and other ISSF membership to straighten out their facts but to also walk the talk and start shifting to products caught with pole and line.