Sustainable Tuna Fisheries
Tuna is eaten throughout the world and provides a source of protein and income for many developed and developing countries. However, due to the popularity of certain species of tuna such as bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack, albacore and bluefin tuna, many of these stocks are being fished to the state of collapse. As fisheries increase their catch to supply increasing world demand the threat of ecological loss, economic loss and reduced food security becomes more imminent.
Tuna fishing is currently at a watershed. Many countries and fishing fleets are realizing that an effectively managed tuna resource will provide long term economic benefits while avoiding stock collapses that have occurred with other major fisheries.
International laws and standards have been developed and used to try to support sustainable fisheries and nation states are using regional fisheries management organizations (RFMO) to protect tuna stocks. Unfortunately many of these RFMO’s are struggling to be effective and are having problems preventing overfishing and illegal fishing activities while also trying to rebuilt fragile tuna stocks. One of the most effective ways to prevent overfishing is for the consumer to choose canned tuna fish from a sustainable source.
Sustainable Tuna Labeling
In order to promote sustainable tuna fishing there are a variety of different certification programs that can be attached to tuna products, like as canned tuna, to inform the consumer how the tuna was caught. However, there can be some discrepancies with these labeling systems. For example, most canned tuna is skipjack tuna, which is currently quite a healthy stock. But, in order to be ‘dolphin friendly’ many skipjack tuna fishing fleets employ Fish Aggregation Devices to attract the tuna rather than using dolphins. If using a purse seine net this fishing method will catch many juvenile tuna, sharks, turtles and other species as bycatch to be thrown overboard. So, while you are eating canned tuna from a healthy stock that is dolphin safe you may not be eating sustainable tuna.
If the tuna is caught using a ‘pole and rod’ fishing method then it is most likely sustainable. One of the certification programs with the most credibility for labeling sustainable fish and sustainable tuna is from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC label is used to certify fish that has been harvested using sustainable methods.