CAN THE IN­DUS­TRY CHANGE ITS TUNA?

Element - - Cover Story -

Ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists tuna is an­other species with an un­cer­tain fu­ture, mainly be­cause of the man­ner in which they are caught.

Most canned tuna in New Zealand is skip­jack tuna caught in the Pa­cific. In yet an­other ex­am­ple of the be­wil­der­ing na­ture of fish nam­ing, de­spite be­ing per­haps the most widely known ‘tuna’, skip­jack are tech­ni­cally not a tuna, be­long­ing in­stead to the mack­erel Scom­bri­dae fam­ily.

Be­cause fish tend to con­gre­gate un­der large float­ing ob­jects, a lot of com­mer­cial tuna fish­ing uses buoys called Fish­ing Ag­gre­ga­tion De­vices (FADS). In Tuna fish­eries, the FAD is then sur­rounded by a large purse seine net. This fences the fish into a small area next to the fish­ing boat, where they are caught with scoop nets.

Green­peace has put pres­sure on lo­cal fish­eries to switch to less in­dis­crim­i­nate forms of fish­ing, es­pe­cially longline and pole and line fish­ing, and for a com­plete ban on FAD fish­ing. The group ar­gues that ju­ve­nile fish are be­ing caught, along with high lev­els of by-catch that in­cludes less abun­dant tuna species like the yel­lowfin, big eye and bluefin, as well as ma­rine tur­tles and sharks. For­est and Bird lists skip­jack tuna as a species of con­cern, but adds that it is the most eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able tuna species avail­able.

Some of New Zealand’s su­per­mar­kets have al­ready re­sponded. Last June Food­stuffs, which runs Pak n Save, New World and Four Square, an­nounced it would make most of its own Pams range of canned tuna Fad-free by the end of 2011.

But the Seafood In­dus­try Coun­cil re­sponse has been an ag­gres­sive one: it in­cludes on its web­site a link to an opin­ion piece by John Con­nelly, pres­i­dent of the US’S Na­tional Fish­eries In­sti­tute, claim­ing Green­peace is only in it for the money. The coun­cil says pole and line fish­ing would not meet global de­mand for skip­jack tuna, re­quires large

amounts of bait fish caught in nets, and has its own by-catch is­sues.

Mean­while Sealord, the prin­ci­pal canned tuna com­pany tar­geted by Green­peace, is a mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Seafood Sus­tain­abil­ity Foun­da­tion founded by WWF. And the foun­da­tion re­cently an­nounced a ban on mem­bers tran­ship­ping tuna from purse seine catch­ing ves­sels to other ves­sels at sea. It had been ar­gued that his prac­tice ham­pered mon­i­tor­ing ef­forts. But the com­pany has also re­sisted calls to out­law FAD use, threat­en­ing Green­peace with le­gal ac­tion and ar­gu­ing that by-catch in the fish­ery is very low.

Re­spond­ing to the crit­i­cisms, Sealord gen­eral man­ager NZ mar­ket­ing, David Welsh, said: “Sealord tuna is sus­tain­able. By­catch is very low: 0.16% of catch is sharks and non-tuna species make up one to two per cent of the catch in the Western Pa­cific.”

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