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What’s the News on Tuna? Two International Fishery Management Conferences Emerge with Divisive Measures

No matter what product you sell, or what service you offer your clients, it is almost certain that your business thrives on partnerships.  Cooperation and compromise mark the quality of a good pairing and they can allow an industry to grow and flourish immensely.  However, you are probably familiar with the complications that arise when you begin adding multiple associates, all with varying voices and interests.  One can only imagine the hurdles involved when the partnership consists of dozens of nations from all around the world.  Toss in an extremely hot topic – like the tuna fisheries of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – and you’re likely to have some parties that are left unsatisfied.

In the past month there have been two meetings in two separate countries with a host of international partners all discussing how to sustain fisheries of tuna and tuna-like fish.  Tuna are one of the most commercially valuable fish in the world and are integral to the diet of millions of people.  As such, there are numerous stakeholders in over 70 countries that have worked to form commissions with the purpose of protecting the various tuna species from overexploitation.  What comes from these and similar conferences will have a direct and long-lasting impact on your business, and on what you eat.  Here we will discuss the outcomes of these international meetings along with the complexities of what sustainable really means when it comes to tuna.


The ups and downs of the Atlantic
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) met in South Africa at the end of November, with 48 countries sending their fisheries manager representatives.  Despite pressures from the outside to increase the catch of bluefin tuna, the ICCAT approved keeping the existing quota of 1,750 tons or less per year for the western Pacific, pleasing environmentalist groups.  A major concern at the meeting was illegal fishing off the coast of West Africa.  Steps were made towards forcing large fishing vessels to carry a unique identification number beginning in 2016, as there have been many cases of ships changing names and flags in order to evade sanctions over illegal fishing.

The ICCAT was praised by Maria Damanaki, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  In her speech on November 23rd, she commended the results of the efforts to increase efficiency through improved scientific advice, boosted compliance, better recovery plans, and a stronger enforcement of their tougher decisions.  She stated that she is hopeful that the ICCAT can be a source of inspiration among Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RMFOs) for tuna, of which there are five worldwide.

Conversely, critics are slamming the ICCAT for failing to take action on a number of measures upon the conclusion of the meeting.

For the third year in a row, members delayed the implementation of measures to track tuna catches electronically from ocean to port to market.  With the industry subject to rampant illegal fishing and fraud, these measures are crucial to improving traceability.  The ICCAT has established a traceability system called the “Bluefin tuna Catch Document” or BCD.  Bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean are transported live to farms where they are fattened for up to 8 months before being sold on the market.  When these fish are mixed in cages at these farms, traceability is lost.  The World Wildlife Fund analyzed the BCDs of 2012 catches and reported that the weight of tunas caged in farms vs the reported weight at harvest is far beyond the range of potential growth in the farms.

The WWF stated that tuna fishing in the Atlantic is still “out of control” because of false reporting of catches.  Last year there were an estimated 20,000 tons of unreported tuna sold, mainly in Japan.

ICCAT was also criticized by conservationists for not enacting any measures to protect sharks, or taking action against those with a history of illegal fishing.


The battle of the Pacific
Just a week after the ICCAT meeting, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) met in the Australian city of Cairns.  With 33 member states attending, this meeting set forth controversial conclusions that have upset several parties.

A record 2.65 million tons of tuna were caught from the Pacific in 2012, accounting for 60% of the total global catch.  Fleets from nations such as Europe, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan do most of the fishing.

Decisions were made to reduce the longline bigeye tuna catch– a fishery that produces mass amounts of bycatch– by 10-30 percent for foreign fishing nations.  They also agreed to freeze the number of foreign purse seine (a type of fishing involving large nets) and longline vessels targeting bigeye tuna for sashimi that can operate in the region.  The commission will consider limits on purse seine fishing at next year’s meeting for after 2014.

Scientific committees have recommended that fishing of bigeye tuna needs to be cut by 40% to return to sustainable levels.  The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), a group of small island nations, said the progress made by the commission was not enough to stop the overfishing of bigeye tuna.

The Cairns meeting was described quite accurately as a battle between large fishing nations, who refused to drastically cut fishing quotas, and small Pacific nations warning of the consequences of overfishing.

The European Commission was disappointed in the outcome, stating that more drastic reduction of longliners and purse seiners is necessary to reduce overfishing of bigeye tuna.  The EU also wanted stronger measures on the South Pacific Albacore and Pacific bluefin tuna, as these stocks have been facing heavy fishing pressures in the last few years.

The WCPFC did adopt a measure for the conservation of silky sharks, a near-threatened species that is often caught as bycatch.


Choose or avoid
Choosing sustainable options for tuna can be tricky at best.  Which species, the regional population, how they are caught, at what age they are caught, and bycatch all need to be considered.  For example, albacore tuna are considered a “best choice” if caught by troll or pole and line in the U.S. and Canadian Pacific, but they are on the “do not eat” list if they are caught with a longline anywhere in the world.  Many longlines result in high levels of bycatch of sea turtles, sharks, and seabirds, and over years can contribute heavily to the decline of some species.  It should be noted that longline-caught albacore from Hawaii is considered a “good alternative” because of their strict bycatch regulations and healthy populations.  Troll and pole and line fishing also catches younger fish with lower mercury levels – whereas the Environmental Defense Fund has issued a consumption advisory for longline caught albacore because of higher mercury levels.

This is just one example – if you take a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide, you will see a myriad of greens, yellows, and reds when it comes to choosing albacore, bigeye, blackfin, skipjack, or tongol species.


The plight of the bluefin
One tuna to be avoided is straight forward – bluefin.  Worldwide populations of bluefin are being caught much faster than they can reproduce.  They mature slowly and are consistently caught young, before they have a chance to reproduce.  Also known as hon maguro, kuromaguruo, or toro, it is highly prized as sushi and sashimi.

Just earlier this year, a single bluefin tuna sold for a record-breaking $1.8 million at a Tokyo market.  That puts a 1 oz bite of the tuna around $230.  With a price tag like this, fishermen are scrambling to catch as many of the majestic bluefin as they can manage.  Stocks of bluefin caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fell by 60% between 1997 and 2007, due to overfishing – much of it illegal – and lax quotas.

There has been improvement in stocks in the last couple of years, but the outlook for the species is still very fragile.

Partnerships for the future
As we know already, partnerships are essential for any industry to cultivate success.  The RMFOs have a great potential to perpetuate healthy fisheries, but much of that relies on their ability to work together and strive for a more sustainable future.  Pucci Foods is committed to working with partners who practice sustainable seafood fishing and farming.  You can trust us as your partner to provide your clients with the freshest, safest seafood that nature has to offer.

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