When tuna fishing comes up in conversation here, the first thing most people want to talk about is jobs.
The Rainbow Warrior has been moored in Pago Pago, American Samoa for the last few days.
When tuna fishing comes up in conversation here, the first thing most people want to talk about is jobs. As one government official told us, “You guys must see everybody grabbing for the fish. We're all concerned about sustainability, but if we don't go for our share, it’s going to get grabbed up by someone else.”
To be clear, it’s not that people only care about jobs. They also talk passionately about the need to be good custodians of the ocean, to ensure everyone gets their fair share, and the importance of protecting fish stocks for generations to come.
Pacific island fishing and distant countries
There’s a local purse seine fleet of almost 20 vessels based in Pago Pago, but most are not fishing at the moment. Tuna company Starkist is currently threatening to close the local cannery, citing a lack of fish – with a potential 2,000 jobs at stake. In Fiji boats have also been idle, and workers laid off. Local fisheries in Samoa, Tonga and other Pacific Island nations are also suffering.
These changes should be seen in the context of declining tuna stocks. That said, six fishing powers - Japan, Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and the United States - take 70% of the region’s total tuna catch. So as you can imagine, there is quite a lot of political and corporate jockeying between them.
The rest of the world fighting over Pacific fish works out badly for Pacific Islanders. Despite our region supplying more than half of the world’s tuna, just a fraction of the profits from the $7 billion fisheries is returned to Pacific Islanders.
How do we stop everyone grabbing up all the fish?
Tuna travel the world’s oceans, following migratory paths that shift in response to changes in water temperature.
Always moving, they have no respect for boundaries or maps. Which means we’re all going to have to work together to protect them from over fishing. That said, Pacific Island countries have a critical role. With little land, the wealth of our nations is in the sea. And more importantly, almost all Pacific Islanders rely on seafood as our main source of protein.
Unlike distant nation fishing fleets, which can chase better profits elsewhere (or simply be sold for scrap when the fish run out), the fate of those of us who live in the Pacific Islands is bound to the health of our ocean and its fish.
For Pacific Islanders, it’s about jobs and survival, and that’s why we advocate for a sustainable local fisheries with priority access for local fleets.
To ensure those jobs can continue and our fish can feed us into the future, we need to shift the industry to more selective fishing methods, we need to establish marine reserves in breeding grounds (including in spawning grounds and on the high seas), and ensure young tuna are able to grow to maturity and breed.
There is progress already, like the ban on Fish Aggregating Devices for three months of the year in the whole of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It’s also safe to say the Pacific tuna fisheries are better regulated than they were ten years ago. But the tuna are also under more pressure from fishing, and we’re running out of time. The more abuse the fish stocks endure, the longer it will take them to recover.
In the medium term, the answer is local control over local resources, with precautionary stewardship at a regional level and collaborations between countries with local fishing fleets and processing infrastructure.
Our report “Transforming Tuna” lays out our vision for the Pacific tuna fishery in more detail.
You can help - spread the word about these tuna shopping guides, talk about tuna online and with your local store manager.