Sustainable Tuna Key Component of Food Security Worldwide

Carrying fish to market in General Santos City, Philippines

By Mike Crispino

In 2012, the FAO released a report, estimating that there were almost 870 million chronically undernourished people in 2010 to 2012.  The vast majority of these people live in developing countries, where about 15 percent of the population is undernourished.  One-third of all child deaths globally are due to hunger and under-nutrition, and access to nutritious food is especially critical for them as their brain architecture develops in the first 1000 days of life.

Fisheries play a crucial role in efforts to improve access to food in developing coastal and island countries, allowing local fishermen to both feed their families and engage in their local economy.  More than a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Public Health Division found that up to 50 percent of the daily protein intake recommended by the World Health Organization for proper nutrition will need to come from fish for people in the Pacific.

Because of that, ensuring the sustainability of the world’s tuna isn’t just a cause célèbre of the conservation community; it’s really a food security issue at its core.

The most recent update to the Status of the World Fisheries for Tuna report found that skipjack stocks, which provide most of the world’s tuna, are among the healthiest of species. And globally, the majority of tuna stocks are at a healthy level of abundance. But, there are still too many stocks that are overfished, or on the way to being overfished, and the stocks that are healthy today are always vulnerable to a long list of variables including destructive new fishing methods, climate or chemical changes in our oceans and a whole host of other scenarios that can adversely impact a fish stock.  So, we have to make sure that we’re always striving to fish better, manage better and prepare for any and all threats that might face fisheries in coming years.

The science is getting there, and there are several management methods we now know to be be effective – we need to cap the number of boats on the water fishing for tuna, we need smart and effective seasonal fishery closures guided by science, FADs have to be managed based on the best available science and data, catch quotas need to be up to date and enforced, and at-sea monitoring and data collection must be improved. The sheer vastness of the industry and all of its moving parts means that these improvements take a lot of work. But work is good – it creates jobs.

In Environmental Policy and Political Realities: Fisheries Management & Job Creation in the Pacific Islands, the authors remind us that, “tuna species represent seven times the value and ten times the volume of all other fish caught in the Pacific Islands combined.”  While processing and fishing will always hold tremendous prospect for employment, the paper concludes that, “Management creates desirable jobs, some of which will help to build local human capital that could contribute to the expansion of other island industries. With regional cooperation, management could also supplement government revenue and boost economic growth with little investment risk.”

There are three improvements regional fisheries management organizations can make right now. First, the adoption of harvest control rules – sets of well-defined rules used to determine catch quotas based on stock abundance – is paramount. This creates a framework of management that goes into effect based on the state of the fishery, not the willingness of governments to agree in a consensus. Without pre-agreed action plans to avoid overfishing or to rebuild an overfished stock, long negotiations and bureaucracy allow for delayed action or no action at all when a stock’s abundance drops.

Secondly, nations need to close registries to new fishing vessels. The first step to reducing excess fishing capacity is capping the existing number of vessels. And lastly, in order to better manage FADs – fish aggregating devices – vessels must be required to collect and report comprehensive data.

If better management for skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tunas can create jobs and sustainable fisheries, along with improved food security, what are we waiting for?

About Mike Crispino As Vice President of Communications & Outreach for ISSF, Mike Crispino is responsible for media and stakeholder engagement in North America, as well as leading ISSF’s online and media production activities.

Prior to joining ISSF in February of 2009, Crispino worked as a television news journalist traveling from Vermont to New York to Michigan to Washington State. Throughout his career he was hands-on in all aspects of broadcasting spending time as a video journalist, reporter, producer and evening news anchor.

About the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a global coalition of scientists, the tuna industry and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s leading conservation organization, promoting science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health. To learn more, visit their website at

[Image: By ISSF]

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