4 Dirty Secrets Hiding In Your Tuna Can
Continued from previous page
The total bycatch rate of this massively destructive operation is estimated to be somewhere just shy of 30 percent of the total take. That means nearly one third of the total global catch of the albacore fleet -- thousands upon thousands of tons per year -- is turtles, sharks, sea birds, and other casualties of the industry's callousness and greed.
Rule #2 for sustainable canned tuna: When shopping for "white" tuna, buy pole-and-line albacore.
3. Unregulated Fishing in the High Seas
Outside of the boundaries of a country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which stretches 200 miles into the ocean beyond the shores of any given state, there exists a lawless, oceanic Wild West known as the high seas. When it comes to fishing, most anything goes as there are no universally acknowledged enforcement bodies that can serve to protect our common resources.
Tuna vessels regularly park just shy of this 200-mile line, inside what are often referred to as the "high seas pockets" -- four areas of unregulated ocean that are fully encircled by the EEZs of any number of island states in the western and central Pacific that depend on tuna stocks for their economic livelihood. Tuna, of course, know nothing of international boundaries, and pass freely back and forth over these lines until they are netted up by a nearby predatory seiner.
Since these vessels are operating in what are technically high seas areas, they have no rules to follow -- no quotas, no maximum limits, etc. -- and they don't have to pay dues or access fees to the countries that actually own and manage the resources. Activities like transshipping (transferring fish from one vessel to another to allow for longer fishing times and less resource expenditure) are common, which further reduces the abilities of these nearby states to manage their tuna stocks sustainably.
Rule #3 for sustainable canned tuna: Tuna should be caught in managed waters. Buy tuna from companies that refuse to fish in the high seas pockets.
Stolen Fish, Stolen Future
Might tends to make right when there aren't any overarching laws offering protection to those involved. The tuna industry has been the scene of an infuriating amount of bullying over the past decades, mainly by larger, more wealthy nations -- countries like Taiwan, Spain, the United States -- that have ransacked the waters of the independent Pacific Island states. Countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu have virtually no resources aside from tuna, and without a modicum of international law and market support to enable them to draw a fair and honest living from it, the established international tuna barons -- companies like Thai Union (which owns the well-known US brand Chicken of the Sea), Fong Chin Formosa and Dong Won -- are able to pillage their waters with near impunity.
Recently, a number of tuna-rich but cash-poor Pacific island states have banded together in an effort to take charge of their fisheries and to keep the tuna pirates out of their watery backyards. These states are known collectively as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), and they represent one of our best chances to foster a sustainable and equitable tuna industry that protects both the ocean's tuna populations, and the peoples that depend on them.
More information about the PNA and its struggle to wrest control of its own resources back from outside forces can be found here.
Rule #4 for sustainable canned tuna: Buy tuna from companies that support the PNA.
Casson Trenor is senior markets campaigner with Greenpeace USA, where he spearheads efforts to hold restaurants and supermarkets accountable for their seafood sustainability practices and to help educate the public about the global fisheries crisis. He is the author of Sustainable Sushi .