Experts hail world\’s first \’sustainable industrial fishery\’ for tuna



Support from UK supermarkets to phase out tuna caught with damaging fishing gear could make the Western Pacific tuna the world\’s first sustainable industrial fishery.

It\’s a perfect storm, of the positive kind.

UK environmentalists have won commitments from most of the major supermarkets to forsake fish caught with a particularly destructive fishing gear.

At the same time Pacific islanders are taking unprecedented measures to limit the use of the gear on the world’s last major populations of tuna and a company is partnering with them to market their sustainable tuna globally.

One expert calls the simultaneous curbs on the gear and rising demand for fish caught without it a \’unique set of push-pull effects\’ which could make the Western Pacific tuna the world\’s first sustainable industrial fishery. The region today produces two-thirds of the world’s tinned tuna, worth over 3 billion pounds.

The FAD that\’s going out of fashion…

The controversial fishing gear at the centre of this story are known as Fish-Aggregating Devices, or FADs – floating platforms with radio transmitters giving their location.

Built in a multiplicity of sizes and shapes, they are tossed overboard and left drifting in the ocean by ships that use large nets deployed around schools of tuna called purse-seines.

After a few weeks, the FADs typically have attracted vast numbers of ocean-going fish. When the vessels return, they deploy their net around them and haul in up to 100 tonnes of fish at a time.

Because they attract many young, undersized fish, the FADs are blamed for the decline in the numbers of the region’s most tasty and valuable species, the bigeye tuna, whose adult population is estimated to be at 13 per cent of its original size. The yellowfin is also affected. Both are the most prized by sushi lovers after the fast-disappearing bluefin, which swims in colder waters.

The FADs also kill many more sharks, turtles and other marine life with no commercial value than do the nets set around free-swimming tuna of any species, without FADs.

This summer, Greenpeace was able to get nearly all retailers in Britain, the world’s second-largest consumer of tinned tuna, to commit to selling only those caught without FADs.

Meanwhile, the Marine Stewardship Council, which is based in London, is poised to award its certificate of approval to FAD-free skipjack tuna caught in free-swimming schools in the waters of eight tuna-rich Pacific island nations assembled in a group called the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu), known as the PNA.

The added marketability the MSC logo provides is expected to motivate fishers to sell them separately, says Bill Holden, MSC’s Pacific Fisheries Manager. \’We expect the certification will be final by September at the latest,\’ he adds.

A recent study in Britain published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics found that another MSC fish used for fish and chips, pollock, sold for a 14 per cent premium over non-MSC pollock, a strong indication that consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable product.

Finally, the eight Pacific PNA countries, which have already limited FAD use in their waters for foreign vessels to nine months this year and six months next year, have partnered with a Dutch company to create the Pacific’s own brand of FAD-free skipjack: Pacifical (see The new product is designed to fill the expected surge in demand for ecologically caught tuna, notably from Britain.

Campaigners in Europe, Canada and the U.S. say the increased future availability of FAD-free tuna will make it easier to persuade canners and retailers to shun FAD-caught tuna, as the British have done.

According to a study published this year by the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, sharply reducing the FADs use will allow the mature population of bigeye to nearly triple, says Megan Bailey, a fisheries economist and the lead author of the paper.

This and other measures, including banning nearly all purse-seining since January in a zone the size of India in the Central Pacific, would stabilise the tuna populations in the Western Pacific. The purse-seine fishery there could become the first industrial fishery to be truly sustainable, Bailey believes. \’We have a unique set of push-pull effects here…if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here.\’

How the UK led the way

The latest victory in the battle to save the bigeye and the yellowfin came this March in the United Kingdom when the Morrisons chain of supermarkets agreed to ban FAD-caught tuna from its shelves by the end of 2013.

The supermarket joined Tesco, Princes and Asda, which had made similar commitments in earlier in the year. They were responding to a campaign that Greenpeace launched in January that involved writing tens of thousands of letters and sending campaigners in shark costumes to picket supermarkets.

An initial campaign in 2008 called \’Switch the Fish\’ got retailers Sainsbury\’s, Marks and Spencer\’s and Waitrose to stock only canned skipjack tuna caught with a hook and line. The method requires the least subsidies and fuel and employs the most people in coastal communities. By-catch – unintended kills of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin, turtles, sharks and skates – is reduced to a minimum.