Dodgy Catch

What Fishy Secrets are Hiding in Your Tuna Tin?

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Feature story - November 24, 2010
You know that colourful tin of tuna you drop into your shopping basket every week? Well, ever wonder what’s in it?


In a matter of decades, tuna has gone from being an exotic mystery, to a generic foodstuff – there’s even a brand of tuna overseas called “chicken of the sea”. Recently Greenpeace commissioned the first ever independent, public genetic tests into tinned tuna, to find out what was really going on inside 50 brands of tinned tuna.

Analysis of products from 12 countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and several European countries, turned up some pretty dodgy things.

Skipjack Tuna in East Pacific Ocean

Skipjack tuna and bycatch caught in the net of the Ecuadorean purse seiner 'Ingalapagos', which was using a fish aggregation device (FAD). Bycatch included; juvenile bigeye tuna, juvenile yellowfin tuna, black marlin, Spanish mackerel, wahoo, triggerfish, mahi mahi, Green turtle and Olive Ridley turtle. Around 10% of the catch generated by purse seine FAD fisheries is unwanted bycatch and includes endangered species of sharks and turtles.

All mixed-up

Inside some tins, two different species of tuna were found, while in others, tins from different batches were found to have different species inside separate tins.

This happens because tuna companies use a fish aggregation devices (FAD) to boost the size of their catches. A FAD is an an object placed in the water, which attracts lots of fish -- and other animals. FADs allow the fishing industry to catch a lot of tuna at the same time, but since different species are all attracted, including young fish it also causes a lot of bycatch.

“Tuna companies are indiscriminately stuffing multiple species of tuna, including juveniles of species in decline, into tins that shoppers expect to contain a sustainable product. Retailers must act now to immediately shift their business away from cheap tuna caught using FADs with purse seine nets and source from pole and line or FAD-free purse seined tuna instead” said Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Nina Thuellen.

Unsustability driven by FADs

“FADs are at the root of an unsustainable industry, driving the overfishing of tuna populations, and hindering the recovery of species like bigeye and yellowfin. Greenpeace is calling on regional tuna management organisations to enact an immediate global ban on fish aggregation devices, if we are to have any hope for the future sustainability of tuna”.

Turtle and FAD in East Pacific Ocean

A turtle swimming around a fish aggregation device belonging to the Ecuadorean purse seiner 'Ingalapagos', in the vicinity of the northern Galapagos Islands.

So turtles, sharks, and various species of tuna, including juveniles of species under pressure like yellowfin tuna or bigeye tuna are caught in the same nets. This is not only killing hundreds of thousands of sharks, which are either drowning in the nets or dying an agonizing death once they have had their fins cut off and are thrown back into the sea, but it is also killing turtles and non-target fish species.

By using these fish-attractors in tandem with purse seine nets, the tuna industry is destroying its own future and pushing towards the collapse of tuna stocks.  By catching small, young fish, it’s ensuring that there will be fewer large tuna in the future. That’s bad news for your tuna salad, bad news for the fishing industry, and dismal news for the “chicken of the sea”.

And there are now ominous signs that the targeted catch is in trouble.

In October 2009, scientists found there is a greater than 95% probability that the current spawning biomass of Atlantic bluefin is less than 15% of what it was before industrial fishing began.

Last year studies recommended that to have even a 50% chance of stock recovery by 2023, the annual eastern Atlantic catch limit should be capped at 8,000 tonnes – yet the EU, Mediterranean fishing nations, and Japan forced through a catch quota of 13,500 tonnes.


The bluefin crisis is the result of decades of destructive over-fishing. FADs mean that too many fish are caught too fast, leaving Atlantic bluefin unable to recover

We are calling for a ban on FADs in purse seining – we want them banned for using tuna fishing throughout our oceans. Fishing with seine nets only would help minimise the bycatch of other animals, as well as drastically reduce the amount of juvenile tuna ending up in tins.

To help support such a ban we need to take action in the supermarket. Consumers don’t want dodgy tuna, and neither do retailers. Every industry fears the wrath of consumer opinion; and we can use this to persuade the tuna industry to clean up its act, and to stop forcing dodgy tuna down our throats.