Greenpeace has taken drastic action today to highlight overfishing which is plunging fish such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction and shows disastrous bycatch killings of other species through the use of man-made floating objects called Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) using purse seines – a fishing net which may be drawn into the shape of a bag made for catching shoal fish.
A shocking video secretly supplied by fishers on board Spanish and French industrial tuna fishing vessels reveals huge numbers of bycatch such as sharks, turtles and rays killed during the commercial fishing trips aboard ships, which supply some of the major European brands of canned tuna, including Petit Navire in France, and Princes and John West in the UK.
“We selected the strongest images from hours of footage,” said Hélène Bourges, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner in France, “The video exposes the bycatch of non-target species, being caught and dead or dying, thrown back into the sea.”
She points to FADs as the primary cause of this intolerable increase in bycatch for the industry.
Globally, FADs generate 2-4 times more bycatch than the same fishing method without FADs.
A FAD is a floating man-made object that attracts fish. Once an entire ecosystem has aggregated around a FAD, industrial tuna nets, several kilometres long, are deployed. They take everything; endangered species, and the already overexploited, juvenile tuna.
Too many major tuna brands are still using destructive FADs. According to Petit Navire, one of the companies who source their tuna from the vessels featured in the footage, approximately 7% of what their ships take is bycatch.
That is 100,000 tonnes per year, or enough to fill 625 million tuna cans!
Parts of the fishing industry already recognize that FADs are a problem. They are trying to limit the number of FADs to 150 per boat, some are fishing ‘free school’ without FADs. Disappointingly, others (including some Spanish ship owners) do not limit the use of FADs, and can deploy up to several hundred per vessel.
There are currently no regulations limiting the use of FADs and so downstream industry stakeholders, such as Canned Tuna Brands, have a crucial role to play. They must commit to sourcing only FAD-free caught tuna.
MW brands, the group that holds Petit Navire brands in Italy and the UK, have committed to this, but not Petit Navire in France.
“We calculated that the volume of bycatch generated to supply Petit Navire, the leading brand in the French market, is around 2,000 tonnes per year,” said Hélène Bourges.
The eight recognised species of ‘true’ tuna are Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin, Southern bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin, albacore, long tail and blacktail and a further eight species in the extended family that are normally called ‘tuna’.
Bluefin have been fished in the Mediterranean since at least 2000 BC, and it is said that their shoals sustained Roman legions. But it has been the impact of the relatively-recent industrialisation of fishing that is threatening ones such as the Atlantic Bluefin.
The decline of bluefin has led to an incredible demand for prize specimens – in 2013 over million ($US1.8 million) was spent on a single fish in Japan.
Radical action is urgently needed to ensure a comprehensive system is in place as soon as possible to monitor where and what kinds of drifting FADs are used by purse seine fleets.
Lyn Drummond is a Media Specialist at Greenpeace International.
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