Is it really “sustainably caught”?

IN late February the canned tuna brand Sirena began an extensive campaign to position its product as “100% sustainably caught”. It pushed three messages: first, that its tuna was caught using pole and line, not nets; second, that the fish are traceable, with all Sirena supplier contracts including an obligation to sign and comply with Sirena’s Code of Ethical Sourcing policy; third, that it requires all of its suppliers comply with the labour laws in which that supplier operates.

Sirena used some full page editorials and very good writers to explain its push and has both a website,, and a facebook page to provide more information and encourage discussion.

It’s clearly a major marketing decision from the company which has always supplied an excellent product (yellowfin) but which in the past didn’t rank high on the sustainability table, when compared to other canned tuna brands. Independent market researchers have for years been telling us that Australian consumers are becoming more aware of environmental issues when buying food, with major retailers adopting “sustainably sourced” policies for much of their seafood.

It will be interesting to see if this commitment translates in to increased sales of Sirena tuna and if other big players in the industry feel compelled to follow their lead. It’s a big advance from the old “dolphin safe” endorsement that many brands carry. They may be “dolphin safe”… up to a point … but much of the tuna is still caught in purse seine nets, using FADs, with by catch issues, in waters of poorer South Pacific nations who’ve leased their extraction rights to big overseas operators.

Sustainable fisheries should still be the goal in a world where the population continues to expand and the sea’s resources decline.

Here at Fisho we’ve supported aquaculture as the industry with most potential to feed a fish-hungry world in the long term, but we acknowledge the criticism around the use of small pelagics and other “trash fish” to keep the marine side of the industry profitable. Aquaculture already provides over 50 per cent of the seafood consumed, but its continued development must depend on the development of fish diets that don’t unduly impact wild fish populations.

Sustainable extractive fisheries should be driven by good science and sound research, and in recent years Australia’s federal, state and territory fisheries agencies have all gotten a lot better at developing policies and procedures which can keep the fishing industry viable while protecting our stocks of wild fish.

There’s still plenty of room for controversy though, as these agencies’ political masters still pursue economic development agendas which may not line up all that well against real principles of sustainability. Think long lining marlin, bottom trawling, beach hauling, tuna ranching, super trawlers…

John Newbery is Fishing World’s environment editor.

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