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Fishing for tuna solutions

fishing for skipjack tuna

Tuna fisherman employ traditional pole and line fishing, a sustainable fishing technique.

Credit: Greenpeace

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Pacific solution

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) - seven Pacific island nations and Papua New Guinea - control about 30 percent of the global tuna supply, and worry about the livelihoods of local fishermen and the sustainability of their deep water fisheries.

Most of Australia's tuna is caught in the Pacific using industrial methods, is canned in Thailand and is shipped to Australia from there.

In December 2008, armed with scientific advice, the PNA asked the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which controls their fisheries, to reduce the catch by 30 percent.

"All the Pacific island countries basically said, 'OK, well this is the number we want agreed at this meeting'," says Greenpeace oceans team leader Lagi Toribau. "And the Asian nations basically laughed at their face and said 'Sorry, no. We're not going to do that'."

Maurice Brownjohn, PNA commercial manager, says they were "naturally disappointed" the deep water fishing nations argued for a lower, phased reduction or an exemption.

Alternate ideas

The PNA didn't give up. In February they announced that they were seeking MSC-certification for purse seining of skipjack, a species Quirk says is "relatively stable".

Purse seining is a non-selective method of fishing. It is also an industrial method. According to Greenpeace, a single purse seiner can catch in one day what it takes a fleet of local fishing boats a year to catch.

"Pole-and-line fishing is an excellent potential artisanal fishery, but it occurs in a few localised areas and it does not produce the volume needed for the canning market," argues PNA's Brownjohn.

Not everyone is a fan of the MSC, an organisation set up by Unilever and the WWF. Its board of trustees includes members from the WWF, fishing companies and scientists.

"There is no reason that the MSC has to continually, to this day, make it so easy to get into assessment, to get the stamp of approval, and to keep the stamp of approval even though you don't meet your benchmarks," says author Trenor.

Choices

At the end of the day, the best thing to do is to read the label of your can of tuna and joining campaigns that call for better food labelling.

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