Japan’s Pesca Rich touts pole-and-line tuna

Published on
March 6, 2011

At mid-February’s Osaka International Seafood and Technology Expo, Tokyo-based tuna processor Pesca Rich promoted its products by playing up the company’s use of the pole-and-line fishing method and the economy of buying only the cuts needed.

The company set up a tuna processing facility in 2007 under subsidiary Tenpoint Manufacturing Corp. in General Santos, the Philippines. The city, in southern Mindanao Island, is known as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.” The plant, which processes tuna into various cuts, such as loins and sashimi, is about 10 minutes from the port. Ninety percent of the company’s tuna business is in yellowfin, the rest in bigeye. It receives and processes about 800 to 1,000 fish per day.

Pole-and-line fishing has received praise from environmental organizations such as the Seafood Choices Alliance and Greenpeace for reducing by-catch of dolphins, turtles and non-target fish species. And numerous retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco in the United Kingdom, have recently pledge to buy only pole-and-line tuna. Line-caught tuna also fetches higher prices than purse seine-caught tuna because each fish is landed individually and alive, preventing bruising and ensuring freshness.

However, international regulation may also have much to do with the choice of fishing method. In 2009, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) imposed a three-month ban on the use of seine nets for tuna fishing in a 306,000-square-miles area south of Micronesia and north of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The ban does not apply within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

This ban was later extended to three years as part of a package of conservation measures, including removal of some fish aggregation devices, aimed at reducing tuna mortality by a minimum of 30 percent from the 2001-04 annual average. It covers purse seine tuna fishing in international waters, but line-caught fishing is exempted.

Prices for the landed fish are usually fixed with contracted fishermen for a six-month term but have tended to be steady for the species the company deals in.

Takashi Ito, assistant manager of the Kansai region branch, said that by purchasing a processed product, buyers can and decrease the risk of getting a lower grade fish.

“If a fish has a defect like discolored flesh, we would discover it during processing,” he said.

Pesca Rich makes tuna jerky from the cutting scraps, for sale in Japan and in the United States under the name Itsumo Ahi Tuna Jerky. When the plant was built, the company hoped to export smoked tuna to Japan. Japan’s Department of Health and Welfare has restricted importation, production and sale of frozen smoked tuna, yellowtail and tilapia since 1997 because smoking masks discoloration of red-fleshed fish, which could mislead customers about freshness.

Tenpoint had planned to employ a different smoking process that would allow the firm’s products to enter the Japanese market, but ultimately was unable to get around the ban.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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