let’s talk about tuna

I recall somewhere hearing that sustainable seafood was a myth. That at this point, any seafood we consume is unsustainable.

Now I guess to some extent this is true, and we have known about it for over a decade. In 2006, Scientists from Dalhousie University released a paper that predicted the end of all commercially fished species by 2048.

Mass overfishing, ocean dead zones, pollution and climate change were said to be the main contributors to this trend. This, inevitably would lead to a dead ocean in another 30 years time.

An exploding human population = environmental degradation.

The paper from 2006 ruffled some feathers but for most, it’s urgency proved ineffective on the general population. Not bad enough? Not soon enough? Someone else can deal with it?

For many, living blissfully ignorant is the easy option;” I can’t stop eating seafood, seared salmon always has a space in my heart.”

What about a compromise? Being a conscious consumer. Limiting your intake of seafood and only eating certified sustainable products.


So let’s talk tuna.

In 2013, 90% of bluefin tuna caught were too young to reproduce. You don’t have to be a scientist to see the effects this would have on for tuna’s ability to repopulate. Bluefin are now registered as threatened species.

The World Wildlife Fund says the effects of overfishing are at a crisis point;

“More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them.”

Practices such as longline fishing target tuna and other large game fish. The baited hooks used can stretch up to 100 kilometres in length,  exercising little control over what is caught. Generally the by-catch rate (meaning species caught that are not the target) can be upwards of 35 percent.

A recent finding by Greenpeace saw a Taiwanese longline vessel pull in more dead sharks than tuna;”40 tuna and 41 sharks including the vulnerable oceanic whitetip shark, as well as 22 swordfish, nine blue marlin and one striped marlin”.

As well as fish, commercial longline fishing is one of the major threats to albatross leaving three species critically endangered.

Now, as one can imagine other techniques such as netting are also enormously unsustainable. Scoop a net through the sea and marvel at all the diverse species gasping for air?

Oh and we can’t forget F.A.D.’s or Fish Aggravating Devices used by commercial fishers. FAD’s are simulations of floating debris with satellite tracking used to attract tuna. The F.A.D technology then attracts predators and other marine life to move to the location.

Fishing trawlers locate the congregation through GPS and ladle the seafood stew with a large net.

Watch this video from Greenpeace UK to see more on F.A.D’s:


These practices are just the tip of the iceberg. In 2011 experts estimated that illegal fishing accounted for up to 33% of the world’s annual catch. With the lack of monitoring on fish size, species and gross total, illegal fishing poses a major threat on the ocean’s ability to bounce back.

Ocean conservation organisation, Sea Shepherd are on the frontline of fighting illegal fishing activity. This documentary follows Sea Shepherd’s struggle with illegal fishing and defending one of the world’s most diverse and important natural ecosystems, the Galapagos Islands.


So back to the tuna, right?

If you choose to eat seafood you can do it wisely. Making conscious choices as a consumer on what you buy does help ensure the ocean’s sustainability for future generations.

Pole and line fishing is currently the most sustainable fishing technique. Each fish is caught by a single rod, eliminating the chance of by-catch and monitoring fish size. This method ensures that fish are the correct breed – not bluefin, bigeye or yellowfin but the relatively stable population of skipjack tuna.

Pole and line fishing also employs more workers – as more rods means more people power!

So next time you are in the grocery store looking to buy tuna, ignore the fads and go straight for the source. Even if the can says ‘sustainable’, does it say ‘pole and line caught’? If not – do not purchase.

If it is pole and line caught, is the tuna on the ingredients list skipjack? If it does not say, I would not risk it.

Check out this handy canned tuna guide from Greenpeace

By spending that extra thirty seconds checking the labels at the grocery store, you are giving the ocean extra time to fight back!

Furthermore, if you are interested in the sustainable seafood for other species Sustainable Seafood.org have their own app available for iPhone and Android users, as well as a free download pamphlet to print off – available here!




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