Would You Like an Endangered Species With Your Tuna Sandwich?

This week I’m going to be highlighting the issue of Tuna as it’s possibly one of the most common fish products on our shelves, but also one that harbors some of the greatest environmental issues.

The issue with Tuna is that although many of us have the impression that Dolphin friendly Tuna is sustainable and environmentally sourced, this is just a huge misconception. The truth is that the Dolphin friendly label is very ambiguous and can identify several different restrictions depending on the country and brand. Generally within the UK, the label identifies that the fishing methods utilized have avoided incidental or purposeful capture of Dolphins. This generally means that the methods avoided included; Gill-netting, Drift-netting and targeting of mixed Dolphin and Yellowfin Tuna shoals.

So what are the other issues with Tuna? Well infact one of the issues is that the Dolphin friendly restrictions have given rise to even more damaging fishing methods. The previously the most common method of fishing Yellowfin Tuna was to follow shoals of large individuals that swam with oceanic Dolphins, however these methods led to high numbers of Dolphin bycatch. The Dolphin friendly restrictions in many countries have now led rise to fishing methods targeting solo Tuna shoals, which is particularly hard, and artificial shoal formation using aggregation devices. The issue with these is that then the capture method of choice is purse-seining which is a highly non-species specific method of capture. Purse-seining catches any fish or animal that also happens to be attracted by these devices which includes a wide variety of fish, sharks, rays and turtles.

If you want to watch a video demonstration, Greenpeace have a illustrated one which can be found below. These nets can be several km long catching everything in its path, imagine 3km is probably the size of a small town, imagine everything being scooped up just to catch birds and then throwing everything else back dead, humans, cats, dogs, foxes, badgers, rabbits everything! A bit extreme don’t you think?

A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) document entitled ‘A Study of the Options for Utilization of Bycatch and Discards from marine capture Fisheries’ in 1997 states that of global Tuna fisheries 80% utilize purse seines, 12% longlines and just 8% use pole and line catching methods. According to the FAO Fishery Statistical Collections ‘Global Tuna Catches by Stock‘ data set, current Tuna landings exceed 6 million tonnes a year. This means that approximately 4.8 million tonnes of Tuna a year is caught using purse seining methods.

Estimates of the total bycatch are hard to find as generally we just do not know, most fisherman don’t count the bycatch but just throw it over, out of sight, out of mind.

A study by Hall et al in 1998 looked at the total bycatch of Tuna fisheries in the Pacific. They compared the three main Tuna capture methods, Using aggregation devices, open ocean shoals, and mixed Dolphin/Tuna shoals. They identified that the main species of bycatch were;

• Small Tunas; undersized Yellowfin, Bigeye, and Skipjack Tunas,
• Bullet Tunas; Black Skipjack, Bonito,
• Billfishes; Striped Marlin, Shortbill Spearfish, Black marlin, Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Swordfish
• Rainbow runner,
• Yellowtail,
• Wahoo,
• Sharks: Hammerhead, blacktip, whitetip, silky, dusky, other Sharks, Manta Ray, Pelagic Stingray,
• Sea Turtles: Olive Ridley, Green, Black, Loggerhead, Hawksbill,
• Mahi-mahis,
• Triggerfishes,
• Other large fish; Sea bass, Jacks.

Manta Ray Caught as Bycatch in Tuna Purse-Seine, Image Courtesy of WWF


Turtle Caught as Bycatch in Tuna Purse-Seine, Image Courtesy of WWF

Using the data produced on bycatch form this study and combining it with the catch statistics from the FAO, I produced this graph estimating the total number of individuals caught as bycatch from the three main purse seining methods; aggregation devices, targeting free shoals and by targeting multispecies groups associated with Dolphins. The figures are dramatic and show the total bycatch when 4.8 million tonnes of Tuna are caught by purse seining. The method of choice switch to aggregation devices although better for Dolphins, has been detrimental to sharks, turtles and Billfish (which include threatened Marlin species). Using aggregation devices shark bycatch increases 13.6 times to approximately 50.7 million individuals, turtle by catch increases 3.6 times to approximately 110 hundred thousand individuals and Billfish 3.6 times to 2 million individuals. There is however no shadow of a doubt that the switch has been highly beneficial to Dolphins reducing bycatch by 753 times the original figures. Notice that this graph has a logarithmic scale this means the scale goes up in multiples of itself so 0, 10, 100, 1000 instead of 1, 2, 3, 4.

Where to Buy

Canned Tuna

This was an easy task as Greenpeace have already done the legwork. Recently published is the Tuna League Table2011. Although for any of you out there looking to remain sustainable I would recommend only buying from Sainsbury’s’s, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose as these are the only companies that currently stock 100% of own brand canned Tuna as 100% pole and line caught. Other companies such as Co-op and Tesco have pledged the change but currently only a percentage is pole and line caught so not exactly practical, what’s the point in having a 25% sustainable product! However if you do see these pole and line caught mini cans of Tuna in Tesco, feel free to purchase but only these cans, other products may not be 100% sustainable although hopefully this will change in the future.

Also keep an eye out for these other sustainable brands;
Glenryck Maldives Eco-Friendly Tuna Steaks in Brine (www.glenryck.co.uk).
Connetable (www.bespoke-foods.co.uk) Available from Sainsbury’s’s, Waitrose and Budgens.

Tuna Steak

Sainsbury’s’s have topped the list again with all their own brand products in store coming from pole and line caught fisheries, this includes fresh and frozen Tuna products as well as a move in January 2011 to include all ready meals, sandwiches, pate, dips, salads, sandwich and potato fillers and sushi.

Waitrose again also serve up fresh pole and line caught Tuna Steaks, they also sell New England Seafood branded diced Tuna whose website say the Tuna is sourced from the Maldives and so can be assumed to be pole and line caught due to strict fishing laws on the islands. If in doubt look for where products are sourced, those from the Maldives are usually a good bet.

Did you know you can also order sustainable fish online, these two supplies will ship sustainable Tuna right to your door! Just order online (please not i have checked these websites and Tuna is not always in stock, but they do stock a range of sustainable fish so its best to follow market avaliability);
Matthew Stevens & Son (www.mstevensandson.co.uk).
Graig Farm Organics (www.graigfarm.co.uk).

Tuna Sandwiches

As I have already mentioned all Tuna products at Sainsbury’s are now sustainably sourced so feel free to pick up a sandwich or sushi from here.

In addition all Waitrose own brand added value products use pole and line caught canned Tuna, so as long as it’s got the Waitrose label its ay-ok!

Marks and Spencer have also joined the ranks with all own brand Tuna products being sourced sustainably from sandwiches to ready meals, so feel free to buy your lunch time sandwich from here!

Pret A Manger also now stock pole and line caught sandwiches, so when grabbing a coffee and a sandwich feel free to choose Tuna from this cafe!

However don’t think that another coffee shops and sandwich bars have followed suit because as of yet they have yet to do so! If you stop by maybe mention this to the manager in a hope that if we all do it they will soon get the picture! Those that do not source Tuna responsibly include Costa, Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Boots, Greggs, Subway, Tesco, Asda and a whole lot more. So choose Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer or Pret A Manger if you fancy something Tunary for your lunch!

Also if you are lucky enough to be catered by CH&Co; including sub companies Chester Boyd, Charlton House, Ampersand, Lusso and It’s The Agency at any event or restaurant then hooray, your Tuna products are also 100% pole and line caught! So if you’re planning a corporate event then look to choose sustainable catering.

I hope you can see from here that there is a range of options available to those who want to much on Tuna, don’t feel restricted just because you are environmentally conscious! However if in doubt ask, those that don’t know probably don’t source sustainably. Be careful when eating out, that jacket potato from Weatherspoons may look cheap and tasty but is not worth the environmental impact, choose something else and pick up your Tuna from somewhere guilt free. Remember if you don’t have a local stockist then get it delivered, I have linked several stockists and Waitrose and Sainsbury’s also deliver so there is no excuse!

So make marine life smile, and choose sustainable fish!

Make sure check out my blog again as next week I will be tackling the issue of Prawns, the tiny pink habitat obliterators!

Also be sure to sign up to the Hugh’s Fish Fight petition to help eliminate bycatch in the UK and moving toward fisheries reform

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3 responses to “Would You Like an Endangered Species With Your Tuna Sandwich?

  1. Pingback: Would You Like an Endangered Species With Your Tuna Sandwich? « My Ocean News·

  2. Pingback: Would You Like an Endangered Species With Your Tuna Sandwich? « My Ocean News·

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