Choose between Ethical, Sustainable Tuna or
Death by Association

What's ethical and sustainable tuna?

A way to fish tuna without killing more other species (by-catch) than tuna ; and without overfishing our resource.

What’s the Problem with my Tuna Sandwich?

Problem 1: The tuna fishing industry is... fishy

Tuna and dolphin death

Tuna used to be highly associated with dolphin death.

This is because dolphins love tuna and are very good at locating tuna for their next meal.

Fishermen use this ability and follow dolphins to catch tuna.

Sadly, in the fisherman’s nets, dolphins could easily be caught and die.

At one stage more than 130,000 dolphins were killed a year off the US coast for the sake of fishing tuna. Now most tuna is caught by other methods and labelled “dolphin-safe” in the USA.


But that actually doesn’t mean no harm is done to wildlife anymore by catching tuna…

Fishing for tuna using so-called “dolphin-safe” methods can still be made very destructive by the use of fish aggregating (or aggregation) device.

Fish aggregating devices are man-made objects deployed in the ocean (either fixed or drifting) to attract tuna.

Tuna are a curious bunch and they just seem to come to have a look, also the device might offer juvenile protection, these juveniles then attract larger predator fish.

Thanks to fish aggregating devices and huge nets, between 4 and 4.5 million tons of tuna are caught annually worldwide.

So this is a huge success as far as catching tuna goes...


Tuna and by-catch with fish aggregating devices

While catching 1 million tones of tuna by using fish aggregating devices, over 100,000 tons of by-catch ended up in the nets too (data from 2005).

By-catch is the problem: by-catch means fish and other wildlife that are caught and killed, but are unwanted and dumped back in the ocean.

In other words, these wild animals are killed for absolutely no reason.

By-catch includes:

  • sharks,
  • baby tuna,
  • rays
  • and even turtles.
  • And still some dolphins too...

Sharks are already intensively fished to the point that many sharks are now endangered.

And by the way, killing small tuna means we have even less chance of having sustainable tuna fisheries...

Tuna and by-catch with longline fishing

Another dolphin-safe methods for tuna fishing is called longline fishing, where boats deploy kilometres of baited hooks.

Although dolphins are safe here, others not so much.

Long and painful death await seabirds that follow those boats stealing fish.

Turtles are also been put at risk by longline fishing, maybe even more than any other tuna fishing method.

Tuna "dolphin safe" method, how safe is it?

It used to be a case of catching tuna and dolphins together in nets and form a “purse” around them (the method is called “purse seines”).

Then the pursed was drowned and dolphins died - estimate: 8 million dolphins killed until this method became less popular due to public outcry.

Nowadays, often the dolphins and the tuna are still caught together, but the fisherman then attempt to release the dolphins before they drown.

It's called the backing down method.

However this method involves dolphins being chase by speed boats and circle.

This can cause death (although less than if no attempt to release dolphins is made...), exhaustion, stress, injuries, separate mum form their calves and has generally been found to decrease dolphins’ survival.

Too complicated: my head is spinning!!!!

Recap please!

What is ethical tuna?

"Dolphin-safe" methods:

  • Fish aggregating devices

What is it?

Fish tuna around man-made floating device.

What’s the problem?

Kill many un-intended species or “By-catch” including endangered sharks turtles and some dolphins.

  • Longline fishing

What is it?

Kilometres of baited hooks are deployed across the oceans.

What’s the problem?

Kill many un-intended species such as seabirds and turtles.

Non dolphin safe methods:

  • Purse seines

What is it?

Catching dolphins and tuna together in a way that results in drowning the dolphins.

What’s the problem?

Worst method in term of number of killed dolphins! Almost disappeared for canned tuna in the US but still present elsewhere.

  • Backing down

What is it?

Catching dolphins and tuna together and attempting to release dolphins.

What’s the problem?

Still kills dolphins by (amongst other things) exhaustion and stress

So buy your tuna ethically: there are lists of the best and the worst brands published every year for different countries (some by Greenpeace or WWF).

In 2012,

the best were:

  • Fish4Ever, Safcol (in UK and Australia),
  • Wild Planet, Raincoast, Ocean Fisheries (in Canada).

the worst were:

  • Morissons, Tesco and ASDA (in UK),
  • Bolton Alimentari Italia, Pastene, and Unico. John West wasn’t too good either... (in Canada),
  • Aldi, Woolworths and Sole Mare (in Australia).

Problem 2: Tuna is fished too much (or "overfished")

Also be aware that many tuna species are currently over-fished (this is just the opposite of sustainable tuna...).

Of the 23 exploited stocks of tuna:

  • all are heavily fished,
  • >9 are fully fished,
  • 4 are overexploited / depleted,
  • 3 are ‘critically endangered',
  • 3 are ‘endangered',
  • 3 are ‘vulnerable to extinction'.

Some stats about overfishing in general:

In 60 years, stocks of large fish have fallen by 90%.

1.4 billions hooks are deployed each year by long liners.

Trawlers can cast nets with openings of up to 23.000 m­².

For 1 kilo of shrimp, up to 9 kilos of other marine wildlife is killed and wasted.

In 2008, fishing limits were discussed for blue fin tuna (very very over-fished!):

scientists set the limit at 10.000 tonnes, 61.000 tonnes were fished!

The worst off is the Bluefin tuna, which populations have plummeted to the point where an international ban on trade is necessary. Other tuna in trouble are the Bigeye and several stocks of yellowfin and albacore tuna.

For more details on how sustainable it is to eat the different tuna species and other fish, see the consumer guide to sustainable seafood by Good Fish Guide.

Also, look for this logo on your can of tuna: the Marine Stewardship Council. They spend their time assessing how sustainable different fisheries are, and when you see this logo, you can buy your tuna (and other seafood) with more peace of mind...

So, What Should You Do?

This is a question only you can answer...

  • If you can live without your tuna sandwich and can’t bear all the consequences of the tuna fishy business:

Then maybe you should stop eating tuna altogether.

  • If you can’t live without tuna:

Then continue buying tuna and use your consumer power to change the tuna industry.

1/ Pressure the industry to become more sustainable: write, call or email the companies you see on tuna cans at your local supermarket. Ask them what they are doing to decrease their negative impacts on dolphins and other by-catch, and how sustainable their fisheries are.

2/ Buy ethical and sustainable tuna: buy only the best tuna cans with all the right logos and the less overfished tuna species.

3/ Keep informed regularly on this issue: lists of sustainable tuna brands and less overfished tuna species are updated every year (see Greenpeace or WWF websites).

So if you must eat tuna, enjoyed your tuna ethically and...

with moderation!