Species in focus: tuna

G Magazine

The touchy topic of the sale and fishing of tuna.


Unloading the prized catch of big, fresh (and critically endangered) Southern bluefin tuna.

Credit: iStockphoto

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It comes in a can and tastes good on sandwiches, right? But the fishing and sale of tuna is more sinister than it seems on the supermarket shelves.

Globally, the tuna industry is responsible for more hooks and nets in the water than any other fishery, catching more than 4.5 million tons of tuna a year.

Farming of Southern bluefin tuna – a critically endangered species – is the single most valuable sector of the South Australian aquaculture industry, with the majority of it sold to lucrative Japanese sashimi markets. Tonnes of Southern bluefin are currently frozen in cold storage in Japan; it's believed it's being stockpiled for when the species is extinct, so even higher prices can be sought for it's sale.

Most tinned tuna sold in Australia is skipjack tuna, which isn’t such a concern as it’s a species that is only fished at 40 per cent of its sustainable harvest, however most of it is imported here from where it’s tinned in Thailand. The World Wildlife Fund recently endorsed an MSC-certified Pacific skipjack tuna in the Pacific Islands.

Consumers can make a difference by first choosing pole and line caught brands (such as Fish4Ever) and skipjack tuna (such as Safcol who are improving). Check out Greenpeace's Canned Tuna Guide to see how different Australian brands stack up in terms of sustainability.

Conservation status of tuna species:
• Southern bluefin tuna – critically endangered
• Atlantic bluefin – endangered
• Bigeye – vulnerable
• Yellowfin and Albacore – near threatened
• Pacific bluefin, Skipjack and Blackfin – least concern.