New tuna longline FIPs have potential to turn the tide at RFMO negotiations
Tuna longlining’s sustainability credentials can take a big step forward through the two supply chain-supported improvement projects announced this month for albacore fisheries in the Indian Ocean and Western and Central Pacific Ocean, according to NGO project leader Ocean Outcomes (O2).
The Indian Ocean albacore and South Pacific albacore and yellowfin fisheries supply Bumble Bee with around 50,000 metric tons (MT) of tuna, which the North American seafood brand sources through Taiwanese fresh and frozen tuna trader FCF Fishery Company Ltd.
“As we procure a significant amount of albacore tuna annually to meet demand for our products, we are in a unique position to help ensure the long term sustainability of longline albacore fisheries," Bumble Bee Vice President of Sustainability Mike Kraft said. “All of that tuna comes from healthy stocks. This initiative will launch two fishery improvement projects [FIPs] to help ensure those stocks remain healthy, while working to close identified gaps between current fishery operations and other [Marine Stewardship Council] principles.”
Daniel Suddaby, vice president of strategy and impact at O2, told SeafoodSource that the aim of the FIPs is to bring the fisheries up to a level of best-practice where they can be entered into full assessment according to the MSC standard within five years without any conditions.
Being longline fisheries, one of the inherent challenges will be generating data, and in particular understanding what the vessels are catching and what they are discarding. Once that information is established, the true impact of the fisheries can be better understood and it can be determined if this is acceptable within the MSC guidelines, and if not, that improvements are made to the operations.
This is one of the key areas that O2 expects to see some important progress, Suddaby said.
As for the best approach for the fisheries to address these information gaps, he said it’s likely that some form of onboard observation – most likely electronic – will bring about data improvements across the fleets. This will lead to a better understanding of the fisheries’ current impacts and the necessary mitigation to reduce these to a sustainable level.
Another central focus is in regard to stock management and the requirement of most MSC fisheries to have effective harvest control rules (HCRs) that can adjust the catch size in relation to the population levels of the target stock.
“Bumble Bee has been forward-thinking in the area of ecosystem impacts. They have already trialed some electronic observers on a number of their vessels and they’re getting that data back. These efforts are at the cutting-edge of transparency and understanding what’s on-board and also where the boats go,” Suddaby said.
He also acknowledged that having the engagement and buy-in from a key industry player is critical to the success of FIPs such as these, as it generates the necessary incentive for the supply chain to adopt change.
“Of course, there are other ways of going about a fishery improvement project – a small-scale community-based FIP, for example, might be working bottom-up with the fishers and then identifying partners as part of that fishery improvement process,” Suddaby said. “But in this case, the tuna fisheries are quite well developed with globally traded products, so you need that buyer commitment up front.”
As such, and beyond achieving MSC accreditation, Suddaby said these new FIPs have the “bigger-picture” potential to connect catching fleets that have so far skirted around committing to robust sustainability plans. This is particularly the case among Northeast Asian longliners.
“I have been working at a tuna RFMO level for some eight years and often one of the key challenges has been engagement at meetings of the Northeast Asian states such as Korea, China, and Japan. These national delegations are not [as good at] working together on the sustainability agenda as those other nations that have much more structured sustainability markets,” Suddaby said. “I think this project is a really great way of engaging those fleets and through that engagement getting much more cohesive and constructive dialogue at the RFMO meetings. This will hopefully drive better management for the fisheries as a whole.”
To support its Northeast Asian tuna fishery improvement work and ramping up the engagement of the region’s longline fleets, O2 has received funding from the U.S.-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
“The FIPs with Bumble Bee really are the flagship of this improvement work,” Suddaby said. “We believe that the conservation community as a whole can use these FIPs as a vehicle to engage governments in positive change at the RFMOs.”
Given time, these and other similar efforts could put tuna longlining on a similar sustainability path now seen in the purse-seine sector, Suddaby said.
“I have seen the purse-seine sector make great strides along the road to sustainability. I also think tuna longlining could be on a similar trajectory, but it’s earlier in the process,” he said. “It’s exciting that we might be seeing a shift with the sector, which is traditionally more challenging, particularly with its larger bycatch.”
While tuna longlining is a lot less centralized than purse-seining and traditionally the investment in boats and the involvement from big brands is not at the same level, Suddaby said there are early signs of change, and the engagement of both Bumble Bee and FCF could be considered something of a game-changer.
“It’s starting; some of the interest in improvement and leverage is beginning to be there,” he said. “In getting these companies engaged with our project, I’m hopeful that the outreach and engagement from other longliners will increase and that will accelerate the movement towards better sustainability. This is what we’ve seen in other catching sectors, including purse-seine.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA