World Tuna Day: The long road to sustainable fisheries?

Every second, 152 kilos of tuna are fished … to ensure a world consumption of about 0.45 kg/year/ person, equivalent to that of Nutella … This poses several problems.

We are celebrating May 2nd for the first time on World Tuna Day. Created on the initiative of the Nauru member countries (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu), this day aims to highlight the vital importance of the tuna market for many species. countries, and to highlight the significant challenges that the sector faces in terms of sustainability. The Conversation

For the consumer who wonders about the source of the fish he buys, it is also an opportunity to recall the diversity of species sold on stalls, their differences provenances and methods of capture, as well as the levers that would allow ensuring more sustainable management of stocks.

Seven species for a huge market

Tuna is considered a juggernaut in the seafood market. It includes several species of migratory fish, the main ones being skipjack, yellowfin tuna, albacore, bigeye tuna and three species of bluefin tuna (bluefin tuna). Pacific, Atlantic bluefin tuna, Southern bluefin tuna).

In 2015, catches of these seven species reached 4.8 million tonnes or 5% of the world catch of the fisheries…

In 2014, the tuna industry’s turnover reached $ 33 billion, or 24% of the value of the global seafood sector. Tuna is thus one of the most important markets for seafood products. the sea in terms of economic value.

Preserves and sashimi

Tuna is mainly caught by industrial fleets. The main fishing gear used is the seine (a long net that encircles the school of tuna), the longline (a line equipped with several thousand hooks with bait) and the cane.

Depending on the fishing gear used and the species targeted, there are several segments of the tuna industry.

Canned tuna is the main form of consumption of tuna: nearly 75% of the world catch of tuna is thus destined for canning. The main species used are skipjack and yellowfin that are mainly caught by seiners.

Sashimi tuna is characteristic of the Japanese market. The species concerned are yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna and all three species of bluefin tuna, the latter being almost exclusively intended for this market. This extremely strict quality market is supplied by the longline fleet and some artisanal line fisheries (Indonesia, Maldives).

Tuna consumed as steak in European and US markets is yellowfin and albacore caught by longliners or trollers. Tuna consumed locally in some countries with a large artisanal tuna fleet (notably Indonesia, Maldives, and Sri Lanka) is also a significant market.

Both in terms of volume and value, the main segment of the tuna industry is canned tuna. Cheapest animal protein, canned tuna represents a market of 1.7 million tonnes (850 million canned goods) The main markets are the European Union (700 000 tonnes), the United States (400 000 tonnes) and Japan (100,000 tons).These so-called “traditional” markets are currently in decline and their consumption levels are stabilizing. The main emerging markets for canning are the Middle East countries, including Iran, the Middle East, and the Middle East. Egypt and Libya.


Inventory management, a major challenge

Over the last ten years, the sustainability of tuna products has become a major challenge for industry players, particularly under the pressure of some NGOs. The demand for sustainable tuna products is mainly from North European consumers and mainly concerns canned tuna. This demand is reflected in two major concerns.

The first concern is the status of the stocks: they must not be overexploited or overfished (an overexploited stock means that the number of fish that can ensure breeding is “too low”; overfishing when fishing pressure on stocks is too high). The state of the stocks varies considerably according to the species considered and the fishing ocean.
For the seven commercial tuna species, there are 23 different stocks in the four ocean basins (West Pacific, Eastern Pacific, Indian, Atlantic). But not everyone has the same status. While the five skipjack stocks are in a healthy state, 3 out of 4 stocks of bluefin tuna are in critical condition. On the other hand, for yellowfin, albacore and bigeye tuna, the situations are more contrasted.

Supervise fishing methods

The second issue of sustainability concerns the impact of fishing gear on other species.

In the tuna fisheries, the seine is the dominant fishing gear (64% of catches). In recent years, this method has been widely criticized by environmental NGOs because of the use of artificial buoys. Called fish aggregating devices (FADs), these buoys attract and concentrate schools of tuna. These FADs are equipped with GPS beacons and sonars allowing vessels to identify and select buoys that have concentrated the most fish.
Today, nearly 65% ​​of industrial purse seine catches are on FADs. Particularly effective quantitatively, this technique has a significant impact on young fish and bycatch (turtles or sharks for example).

Canned tuna is a fishing method with less impact on bycatch. This technique, although more environmentally and socially virtuous, does not currently provide the necessary volumes to supply the canning market.

FADs should, therefore, be best managed to allow sustainable exploitation of tuna fisheries: the reduction in the number of FADs per vessel, the reduction of support vessels (these are vessels responsible for the deployment of FADs and provide support for fishing closures during certain periods or in certain areas are examples of regulation.

Contrary regulation

As tuna is a highly migratory fish, it can not be managed on the scale of national economic zones alone. The management of tuna fisheries falls within the mandate of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), the intergovernmental bodies responsible for stock management in different ocean basins.

However, most tuna RFMOs today face significant challenges in putting in place effective management measures. In the question, the lack of information on the state of the stocks, the absence of political will, the difficulties of the fight against the illegal fishing, public subsidies which favor the overexploitation … Thus at present, in spite of certain measures taken by RFMOs, FADs remain largely uncontrolled.

Next June, the United Nations Conference on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Oceans will be held in New York. There will be a lot of talk about sustainable fisheries as several of the targets in this Oceans SDG focus on the recovery of fish stocks, the elimination of harmful subsidies, the access of small-scale fishers to marine resources and markets. It is, therefore, to be hoped that this event will be an opportunity for sector players – States, fishermen, retailers … – to commit to better practices

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