Susan Jackson on how the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation can ensure effective conservation of tuna
It was a summer of tumult over tuna. The deteriorated state of the Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin stocks, caused by years of overfishing, triggered headline-grabbing reports, campaigns and even a film. The fracas rose to a crescendo when the EU announced its provisional support for listing bluefin as endangered, effectively supporting a trade ban.
Bombarded with the dire straits of a species that makes up just 1% of the world tuna catch, one could easily conclude that all tuna is quickly going the way of the bluefin. This, however, is not in line with reality.
The type of tuna most likely to end up in a sandwich is skipjack. It makes up nearly 60% of the global tuna catch and every stock is healthy. Yellowfin tuna accounts for 25% of the catch and most stocks are being fished at a rate that can be sustained with the help of scientific oversight and management. Bigeye makes up nearly 10% of the global tuna catch and albacore 5%. Both consist of healthy stocks along with a few that are being fished under conservation management measures.
Altogether, that's more than four million tonnes of tuna fished each year and, according to the most recent data, 90% is captured from healthy stocks, of which 18% are in decline. So, scientifically speaking, we aren't running out of tuna. But sustainability challenges exist.
Continued conservation, management and oversight are needed in every tuna fishery. Regional fisheries management organisations governing bodies formed by treaty among nations continue to provide the most effective way of enforcing responsible fishing practices.
While monitoring the health of tuna stocks, RFMOs are also responsible for dealing with direct threats to that health. It is generally accepted that there are too many vessels fishing for tuna and that this can be directly linked to overfishing. So too can illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which has an undocumented toll on fisheries. On-board observers and well-documented schemes that trace tuna from the ocean to store shelves can go a long way in fighting this poaching.
Virtually all forms of fishing, legal and illegal, produce bycatch and some at higher rates than others. Research into the taking of unintended marine life such as turtles, sharks and young tuna, and development of best practices and better technology are needed, particularly in purse seine (net) fishery, which is responsible for the largest tuna catch. Currently, no other form of fishing can support the demand that net fisheries supply and any increases in another fishery's fleet size would need to be studied for its environmental impact, including a detailed analysis of carbon footprints and bait fishery impacts. Right now, that science does not exist.
There is no single solution to fend off tuna's troubles. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation a global collaborative between the tuna industry, science and the WWF, with the ambitious goal of achieving completely sustainable tuna fisheries vigorously supports RFMO scientists, demands an end to sourcing illegally fished tuna, employs a global standard for tracing tuna from capture to plate and is working to develop common best practices and facilitate co-ordinated global research into bycatch. ISSF's collective commitment may prove to be the most effective conservation efforts in tuna fisheries to date.
Susan Jackson is president of the ISSF.