CAN THE INDUSTRY CHANGE ITS TUNA?
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.”