These destructive fishing devices are used to supply much of the tuna sold by Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company.
Our ship pulls up to a random-looking floating object. Into the Indian Ocean plunges a camera in hopes of NOT finding lots of fish and wildlife. Thanks to citizen research done by ocean lovers in Europe we know that this fishing gear belongs to Thai Union’s supplier, and unless we pull it out of the water it could mean the beautifully polka dotted oceanic triggerfish, the graceful silky shark, the baby bigeye tunas and the swirling schools of brightly-coloured fish could become wasted marine life.
These floating objects, known to the tuna fishing industry as fish aggregating devices (FADs), are deployed into the ocean with one purpose – to help catch tuna. FADs are floating rafts equipped with satellite-tracking made from various materials, like bamboo frames covered in netting, with long pieces of old fishing nets, ropes, and plastic ribbons hanging beneath them. They look a little ratty and pathetic, but they pack a mean punch to ocean life.
These destructive fishing devices are used to supply much of the tuna sold by Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company. A company that claims to be a leader in sustainability in the seafood industry.
But setting purse seine nets on FADs catches and kills 2.8 to 6.7 times more non-target species (species that are not adult tuna) than fishing on free schools not using FADs. Lured to the floating object, caught in the nets then usually thrown back to sea dead or dying, tonnes and tonnes of marine creatures are pointlessly snatched up. Juvenile tuna from overfished yellowfin and bigeye stocks make up a huge proportion of this incidental catch, contributing to the demise of these species because they are fished before they can reproduce.
Continuing to fish like this will spell disaster for our oceans. There are few controls on FAD use, and we really have no idea how many floating death traps are out there. Given that every purse seine vessel fishing for tuna in the Indian Ocean is allowed to deploy over 1000 FADs into the ocean each year, we know the number is huge and worrying
That’s why Greenpeace’s ship Esperanza is in the fishing grounds of the Indian Ocean - to stop Thai Union’s destructive practices where they start. We are documenting how many we find, what’s swimming below them, who they belong to, and then we’re scooping them out of the ocean. Each one we find and dismantle means less ocean destruction.
We’re finding FADs that popular brands like John West, owned by Thai Union, can be traced to and we’re seeing near-threatened sharks swimming underneath, likely to be caught if we don’t stop the destruction. We know that many more brands and retailers can be linked to these destructive fishing practices. Unfortunately for our oceans and consumers, unless it says otherwise, most canned tuna found on supermarket shelves around the world was caught by the global purse seine fleet using FADs. And if not by this destructive fishing method, by another – longlining, one of the least selective fishing methods that has contributed to the demise of sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. Two grim choices.
But, there is hope. There are companies, brands and retailers that have decided to be part of that solution Greenpeace and other ocean-saving groups are talking about. The solution where our oceans are fished more sustainably and socially responsibly so that future generations, coastal communities and ocean-dependent peoples will not be worried that the next big tuna catch will be the last.
Greenpeace ranks canned tuna brands in major markets around the world on, among other things, how their tuna was caught. Brands sourcing from more responsible fishing methods like pole and line, trolling, handline and purse seiners fishing FAD-free, fair better than those that have little regard for the hidden costs their customers are incurring. If you’re a canned tuna lover, check out those tuna guides, here. And if you’re an ocean-lover, sign our petition urging Thai Union to clean up its tuna supply chains, including those reaching back to the FADs of the Indian Ocean.