Sustainability and Sourcing
How was your tuna caught?
In most cases, labeling does not include information on the catch method. If it is absent, assume the worst.
SUSTAINABLE SEAS SOURCES TUNA CAUGHT ONLY BY TROLLING OR POLE AND LINE
There is virtually no bycatch* associated with the trolling or pole and line techniques, which are regarded as the best fishing methods for tuna, a fact worth remembering when you buy. This Eco-consensus is supported by many Non-Government Organizations including:
There are 2 main methods used to catch tuna in commercial fisheries that Sustainable Seas endorses as a best-practice method:
1. Troll-Caught Albacore
Commercial fishing vessels that harvest younger surface-swimming albacore are called "jig boats" because they fish with jigs. They are also called "trollers" since they "troll" for albacore.
"Trolling" means to catch fish by towing a lure or baited hook behind a slow-moving boat. In the albacore fishery, trollers attach ten to twenty fishing lines to the vessel's outriggers. These fishing lines are of different lengths and are also spread out along each outrigger to help prevent them from getting tangled up with each other.
Attached to the end of each line is a jig, which is a rubbery fishing lure with a hook in it. Jigs are shaped to look like squid and come in a wide variety of colors. The jigs are trailed in the water behind a moving boat, and some albacore will bite a squid-like jig and get hooked. The hooked albacore is immediately removed from the water and prepared for freezing.
Because jigs are designed to catch fish on the ocean's surface, they simply cannot reach the older, larger albacore that swim in deep waters far below the surface. This is why other types of fishing gear are used to catch older albacore, and why "troll-caught albacore" always refers to the younger, tastier, Omega 3 rich albacore.
2. Pole and line
Pole and line fishing has been practiced for centuries in several different parts of the world. The method involves attracting a school of tuna to the side of a "bait-boat" by throwing live sardines and anchovies overboard. This creates a tuna "feeding frenzy" and fish are hauled out of the water, one-by-one, using pole and line. The size of the tuna caught this way is small, mostly consisting of albacore and skipjack, but also some yellowfin and bigeye.
There are two additional tuna harvest methods that Sustainable Seas considers as environmentally inferior and not in compliance with optimum conservation of marine resources:
1. Purse Seines
Go to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Seafood Guides to get the facts on how harmful this method can be.
Purse seines are large nets that can measure over 2 km long and 200 meters deep. They are deployed in a circular form around a school of tuna, hanging vertically in the water column. Once the fish are completely encircled by the net, it is drawn tight at the bottom, like a purse, to prevent the fish from escaping below. It is then brought alongside the fishing vessel, hoisted out of the water, and the fish are brought on board. Purse seines are used to target mostly yellowfin tuna and skipjack, and on a world scale account for roughly 60% of all the tuna landed. They are the preferred fishing gear of the French and Spanish fleets.
Longlining is the most common method used to catch albacore worldwide. Per Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, longlines attract a variety of open ocean swimmers, such as endangered sea turtles, sharks and other fish, resulting in wasteful bycatch*. Also, as the line is deployed into the water, seabirds dive for the bait, are ensnared on the hooks and drown. Since there are no integrated international laws to reduce bycatch, international longline fleets are contributing heavily to the long-term decline of some of these threatened or endangered species.
Longline gear involves the use of a main line of up to 150 km in length from which as many as 3,000 shorter branch lines, each with a baited hook, are dangled in the water column. The mainline is kept afloat by a series of buoys attached at intervals. The gear is passive, in that it captures whatever fish happen to take the bait. Longlines operate mostly at depths between 100 and 150 metres, but can be set as deep as 300 metres when targeting bigeye. Longlines are used to catch the high-value fish that are marketed as sashimi, historically in the Japanese market but also increasingly in North America and Europe. Since very high quality fish is needed for sashimi, most vessels are equipped with "flash freezers" to freeze the fish to -60oC almost immediately. Taiwan and Japan are specialists in longlining, targeting primarily bigeye, with some yellowfin and albacore.
Most fisheries catch unwanted animals along with their target catch. This non-target catch, known as "bycatch", is normally thrown back into the ocean, dead or dying. Tuna fishing is no exception to this rule. Longlines, for instance, can catch sharks, rays, sea turtles, seabirds and many species of fish. Globally, it has been estimated that 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherback sea turtles are hooked by longlines every year.
Purse seines are no better, with bycatches consisting of a diverse array of marine life, including dolphin fish, billfish, wahoo, triggerfish, barracuda, rainbow runners, sharks and sea turtles, especially when used in conjunction with floating objects (known as fish aggregating devices, or "FADs" - used to attract schools of tuna).