The future for tuna?

YOU’D be pretty hard pressed to find an angler who doesn’t love catching tuna, or have aspirations to do so. Doesn’t matter whether it’s down south for SBTs, in the middle latitudes for yellowfin and stripies, or further north for longtails and macks … on any day someone, somewhere will be out there chasing them from a game boat, tinny or kayak … or spinning or live baiting on a rock platform. Doesn’t matter whether they grow to small, medium, large or gargantuan size, on the right tackle they’re all worthy targets. Quite a few of the species are pretty good on the plate as well.

Which was in effect a problem for a range of tuna types. But now the ones that are suitable to be marketed as A grade product, either for sashimi or grilling steaks, are claimed by our fisheries regulators to be sustainably managed in Australian waters. Gone are the days when canneries such as Eden’s processed hundreds of tonnes of SBTs at a time for a fraction of their true value. Japanese fishery industry visitors to the cannery in the 1960s are reported to have been in tears on seeing how their revered SBTs were handled and turned into cheap canned product. Secondary species, such as striped tuna, were still heavily pursued for canning in NSW until the cost of steaming to find the schools outweighed the already meagre profits. Purse seiners were travelling up as far Vanuatu in the early 2000s.

In the waters beyond Australia’s, various international tuna fishery forums were established by member nations to set regional rules and procedures to attempt to sustainably manage broad ocean tuna stocks. Large food retailers around the world, including here, began to realise that consumers wanted to be assured that their appetite for 200g tins of yellowfin weren’t driving the species to extinction while killing dolphins and other cute critters on the side. You could add their cats’ appetite for canned striped tuna as well, I guess. So now many of these retailers want to stock only “sustainably caught” certified species, which surely is a good thing despite some industry and scientific cynicism reported on in recent News items.

Now Greenpeace Australia Pacific has launched a report titled Transforming Tuna Fisheries in Pacific Island Countries: An Alternative Model of Development. It advocates developing smaller-scale, locally owned fisheries to maximise economic returns, create local jobs and protect countries’ tuna reserves for the long term. Currently the Western and Central Pacific Ocean provides over 60 per cent of all tuna consumed globally.

It’s a noble objective but there is a problem. Currently, Pacific island nations receive an access fee for allowing third party counties, usually from the northern hemisphere, to harvest tuna from within their waters, which might only be 5-6 per cent of the landed value of the catch. The more they allow to be caught, the more they make … at least in the short term. The report aims to show governments and regional organisations how to encourage the development of small and medium scale fishing operations of their own, and retain most of the profit, rather than allow industrial-scale harvesting for a small percentage cut.

It would be a long term win/win for the countries involved and their people, and for environmentalists and anglers right through our region, if it comes off.

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