This thing called life

Catching tuna sustainably: a noble goal for Guam

Fifty percent of the world’s tuna is caught in the Western and Central Pacific region. Today, a meeting in Guam will determine if this fishery will become more sustainable or continue to harm endangered species. This has been highlighted on this morning’s radio.

Three different species of tuna are caught in the region: yellow tuna, skipjack tuna and big eye tuna. The challenge is to ensure that overfishing does not occur, and to control by-catch. By-catch are the species that are killed as a side effect of fishing for the target species. Ironically, big eye tuna, which are the most threatened of these three species, often die as by-catch when fishing boats are targeting skipjack tuna.

Giant whale sharks are often by-catch of the tuna fishing industry. KAZ2.0/Flickr

Dolphins, whales and sharks are common by-catch victims of the tuna industry. Whale sharks often swim above schools of tuna and are used by captains to identify likely fishing spots. This practice of targeting whale sharks leads to the death of the whale sharks. This is one issue under discussion at the meeting in Guam: can we ban the targeting of endangered species as part of the tuna fishery?

I have argued before that we need to eat less fish. But since many of us continue to rely on the protein provided by fish such as tuna, we can make a difference by changing the way we fish. Using more appropriate gear, altering standard methods of targeting fish and limiting by-catch are all important steps toward sustainability of the industry.

Let’s hope that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is able to convince the 25 countries involved to improve fishing practices in our region.