Thursday, 28 July 2011

All UK's canned tuna now 'wildlife-free'? Almost..

A glimmer of hope was flashed through the Pacific swell today, as Greenpeace announced that the last of the UK's big tuna companies – John West – had fallen into line over the dropping of destructive purse seine fishing. Now all tinned tuna sold in the UK will only use the more sustainable line and pole fishing methods, a significant victory for sharks, turtles and juvenile tuna. They have been scooped up in massive numbers, when fishing vessels use the indiscriminate netting of purse seines.

Purse seines are often combined with Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD), which send out signals to draw in tuna. They also have a big pull on other marine animals, though, such as turtles and sharks. When the huge purse nets are closed, it is often found that 10% or more of the catch are creatures other than turtles, which then get discarded as 'waste'. Switching to FAD-and-purse-seine-free methods cuts the bycatch by a tenth – to around 1%.

Additionally, John West has signed up to the Greenpeace-inspired Pacific Commons marine reserve. These are 4 areas in the western Pacific where it is hoped that all fishing and marine-exploitation can be halted, providing a breathing space for marine wildlife. Although though no formal agreement on banning fishing from these areas exists, pressure from Greenpeace and other ocean conservation groups, has led to many major companies agreeing not to fish there.

The ultimate aim is to stitch together much of the oceans that are outside of national waters into oceanic reserves. These would eventually take in some 40% of the world's oceans. That's a mammoth undertaking, but one that may be necessary to shield the oceanic ecosystem from a gathering collapse – and so sustainably secure their use for all. Greenpeace UK's director, John Sauven, said ''Marine reserves in the Pacific Commons would provide much needed protection for fish stocks, the oceans and the millions of people dependent on them for food and jobs.''

Both moves are big steps forward in aiding marine wildlife conservation, and in creating sustainable tuna stocks – the UK gobbles down the second biggest helping of the global tinned tuna catch. Tuna are under serious threat, with 5 of 8 species on the slippery slope towards extinction. Reducing the catch of young tuna – who often get caught in purse seine nets – together with improved protection in the Pacific, may be the start of a reversal to that seemingly inevitable slide.

In announcing the moves by John West, Sauven was hoping they could create wider waves globally. ''Just a few months ago, only a minority of tinned tuna retailers had cleaned up their act, but in a short amount of time there’s been a groundbreaking shift across the tinned tuna industry,'' he said. ''This move is hugely important beyond the UK too, because it means that changes will have to happen at sea. We should now start to see a real shift towards greener tinned tuna around the world in the very near future.''  

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