The Western Pacific Ocean including the Coral Triangle produces around 50% of the 4.3 million tonnes of global annual tuna catch.
Oceanic tunas such as yellowfin (Thunnus albacares), bigeye (T. obesus) and skipjack (Katsuwomis pelamis) are caught by a range of fishing methods employed by thousands of small boats in domestic waters, as well as a 275 vessels strong large industrial distant water fleet operating throughout the region. The sustainability of these fisheries is increasingly questioned and draws attention to complex ecological, social and economic trade-offs between the three species and their fisheries.
Reducing fishing mortality
All fishing nations are increasing their effort on currently underexploited stocks of skipjack using purse seiners on Fish Attraction Devices (FADs), which leads to continued pressure on juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna – two high valued species as large adults – that are considered overexploited. The problem is also one of equity between domestic and distant water fleets. The latter has access to an estimated 60% of the region’s tuna catch, while juvenile and skipjack fisheries remain important for local food security and economies. There are therefore a series of trade-offs between setting goals for reducing fishing mortality of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna while allowing the skipjack fishery to reach its full potential.
Economic importance tuna fisheries
Given the economic importance of the tuna fisheries, sustainable and equitable management is imperative to continued regional development. Ensuring that wealth from tuna fishing accruing to the national economies of the region are reinvested in sustainable management has proven difficult given the high economic stakes of distant water fleets. Innovative arrangements are therefore needed to create incentives for both governments and the private sector to reduce fishing pressure on juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
Development in the tuna industry
To this end a series of innovative approaches to stimulate change in tuna fisheries have emerged in the form of market-based governance arrangements. These market-based arrangements include sustainable sourcing policies by brands and retailers, the promotion of sustainable consumption through third-party certification schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and fisher-led stock allocation schemes. Although these arrangements are in various stages of development in the tuna industry (and fisheries more widely) there is little understanding of how these approaches can steer tuna fisheries towards sustainable practices and reduced fishing pressure.