Australia Partnership With Pacific Islands Gives Access To Sustainably Caught Tuna

Country now leading the world in bringing fish to shelves

By Jemima Garrett

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 29, 2016) – A partnership between Pacific Island nations means Australia is now leading the world in the availability of sustainably-caught tinned tuna on supermarket shelves.

Most sustainably-caught tuna is landed one-by-one by crews using rods and lines.

But the bulk of the world's canning tuna is skipjack tuna caught by large purse seine vessels which take whole schools.

In 2014, almost 2 million tonnes of skipjack was caught in the Pacific, making it by far the biggest tuna fishery in the world.

The take of vulnerable species such as sharks and turtles and wastage of other threatened non-target tuna species increases dramatically when purse seine vessels use floating fish attractors, known as fish aggregating devices or FADs.

The eight nations that own the Pacific fishery (the PNA group) have spearheaded their own wild-caught FAD-free tuna logo called Pasifical.

In an historic move last year John West Australia started selling Pasifical tuna, certified by the globally-recognised gold-standard certification body, the Marine Stewardship Council.

In the six months since the project started John West transferred 95 per cent of its canned tuna – or 100 million cans a year – to the Pasifical and MSC logos.

It has been a costly exercise for the Pacific nations that established the chain of custody required to meet high-level sustainability certification.

"It is the training of observers (who are present on every fishing boat), the training of the carriers, the training for the fish factories ... in Thailand and PNG," said Dr Transform Aqorau, CEP of the PNA group.

John West's Managing Director, Graham Dugdale, paid tribute to the work done by the Pacific nations.

"It is a wonderful and brave move by the PNA Island group to actually take on this initiative," Mr Dugdale said.

"It is the first time that the MSC has been granted to a fishery in a group of islands that actually uses normal purse seiner-type fishing, rather than pole and line.

"It is a major significant move by those island nations."

Forty-three per cent of Australia's canned tuna certified

Not all of the Pacific fishery is FAD-free but the scale of the Pasifical and MSC certified fishery is unprecedented.

Every fish in every can, can be traced from the place it was caught to the tin it is sold in.

"The commitment by John West was one of the biggest of its type around the world," said Patrick Caleo, Australian country manager for the Marine Stewardship Council.

"Forty-three per cent of Australia's canned tuna is now MSC certified. It is a fantastic commitment," he said.

The Pacific countries are determined to keep their tuna fishery healthy for future generations but this initiative alone will not be enough to solve all the challenges it is facing.

In recent years the use of Fish Aggregating Devices has exploded and a technological arms race is making them much more efficient.

Powerful fishing nations such as China, Japan, South Korea and the United States have been unable to agree on measures to cut fishing effort on FADs further endangering at-risk tuna species and vulnerable marine species.

Alfred Bubba Cook, program officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature's Western Central Pacific Tuna said consumer choice had a vital part to play in protecting the environment.

"It is always up to the consumers ... to play the role of the watchdog to hold our markets to the appropriate standard. Consumers want to know they are doing the right thing."

The World Wide Fund for Nature introduced John West Australia to the PNA group and the Marine Stewardship Council.

The PNA group includes Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.

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