Australia Leading The World In Sustainably Caught Tinned Tuna

ELEANOR HALL: Australians can thank our Pacific neighbours for our access to sustainably caught tinned tuna. This nation leads the world in the availability of the product on our supermarket shelves.

And the credit is due to a group of small Pacific Island nations that established the world’s biggest sustainable fishery.

As Jemima Garrett reports.

JEMIMA GARRETT: Most sustainably-caught tuna is landed one-by-one by crews swooping on schools with rods and lines.

The Pacific is home to the biggest tuna fishery in the world.

There, skipjack, the most important canning species, is caught by purse seine vessels which take whole schools.

The catch of vulnerable species such as sharks and turtles increases dramatically when those purse seine vessels use floating fish attractors, known as fish aggregating devices or FADs.

The eight Pacific nations that own the fishery – the PNA group – have spearheaded their own FAD-free tuna logo called Pacifical.

It not only ensures high environmental standards but tells consumers these small developing countries are getting their fair share of economic returns.

PNA CEO Dr Transform Aqorau is the brains behind the project.

TRANSFORM AQORAU: In the supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand, when you pick up a can of John West tuna there is a story behind that canned tuna. You are supporting the small island countries of the Pacific, you are supporting sustainably-caught tuna, you are supporting a marketing platform that belongs to the Islands.

I can’t describe how proud and pleased I am about the fact that we have been able to get Pacifical and MSC canned tuna in the markets in Australia and New Zealand and also in the markets in Europe as well.

JEMIMA GARRETT: Entry into the Australian market was a joint effort between the Pacific island nations, the World-Wide Fund for Nature, the Marine Stewardship Council, which is the gold-standard for seafood certification, and John West Australia.

Graham Dugdale is John West’s CEO.

GRAHAM DUGDALE: It is a wonderful and brave move by the PNA Island group to actually take on this initiative. It’s the first time that the MSC has been granted to a fishery in a group of islands that actually uses normal purse seiner-type fishing, rather than pole and line.

JEMIMA GARRETT: The need for consumers to be given the option to buy FAD-free tuna is more urgent than ever.

In the past three years the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Alfred Bubba Cook has been monitoring an explosion in FAD numbers, and new sonar and satellite technology that has dramatically increased catches.

ALFRED BUBBA COOK: It’s really created a dynamic where fishermen are becoming too efficient. They are able to go out and harvest unprecedented amounts of fish quickly and more effectively than they ever have been able to historically.

JEMIMA GARRETT: The World Wide Fund for Nature was instrumental in getting John West together with the Marine Stewardship Council to provide a FAD-free option.

Patrick Caleo is the MSC’s Australian country manager.

PATRICK CALEO: The commitment by John West was one of the biggest commitments of its type around the world. Forty-three per cent of Australia’s canned tuna is now MSC certified. It is a fantastic commitment.

JEMIMA GARRETT: Each year, 100 million cans of John West tuna will carry the small white Pacifical logo and the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue logo. Every fish in every can can be traced from the place it was caught to the tin displaying the logos.

Transform Aqorau says it has been a costly exercise for the Pacific nations.

TRANSFORM AQORAU: It’s the training of observers, the training of the carriers, running the training for the fish factories. We’ve had to do all this for factories in Thailand and PNG, that’s producing those canned tuna, and it is ongoing training too because we get audited for all of those things.

JEMIMA GARRETT: If consumers vote with their shopping choices, other companies are likely to follow John West’s lead. But that won’t solve all the challenges for the Pacific tuna fishery. Powerful fishing nations such as China and Japan and the United States are still fishing on FADs, and catching endangered species.

ELEANOR HALL: Jemima Garrett reporting.