Science Interviews


Tue, 19th Apr 2016

Moves to cut yellowfin tuna fishing

Felicity Bedford, University of Cambridge

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In the news this week, major supermarket chains have signed a letter which is campaigning to cut yellowfin tuna catches by 20% in the Indian Ocean, in the hope of preventing fish stocks collapsing. This is ahead of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting in May. Europe imports the most seafood in the world and is the main market for tuna too, consuming nearly a quarter of the world’s Yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacaresproduction. But will stopping the problem at the source be enough? Kat Arney put this to ecologist Felicity Bedford...

Felicity - So, the fish stock for tuna are generally in a pretty poor condition all around the world and there are several different species of tuna that are under concern as well, and this is just one of them. To make the point - this hasn’t actually been protected yet. This is just the supermarkets and several other bodies that the World Wildlife Foundation have all banding together to say this is what should be done and that’s a really good step forward.  So hopefully, in May when that meeting happens, they’ll be able to put into place some legislation that will protect those stocks. So, we’re talking specifically about the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna because they have only been threatened in the last few years.  They’re only just now becoming overfished and, hopefully, being able to change that fairly rapidly would mean that we could move forward and actually restore those stocks.

Kat - Because it does feel like we’ve been talking about tuna and tuna overfishing for so long.  So how is it that this new species of tuna is now becoming a problem?  Should we just stop eating tuna - why are we still eating it?

Felicity - So what we’ve basically done is change from the bluefin tuna, the biggest of the tuna, and we’re shifting down the food chain a little bit.  These are all predatory fish but we’re just decreasing the size of the tuna, the quality of the tuna that we’re buying because they’re becoming increasingly rare.  So, there’s something called the skipjack tuna, which is actually doing okay at the moment relative to the other species. We’re basically just destroying one and moving on to the next, which is a pretty bad situation to be in. You’d think we’d learn from our previous mistakes.

Kat - So, with this kind of meeting that’s happening in May talking about cutting tuna consumption - this yellowfin catches by 20%. Is that actually going to be enough?

Felicity - It might be.  It very much depends on the state of the stocks that they are at the moment - how bad has the situation become. With fishing, it’s really difficult to tell what these stocks currently are and the fact that we’re flagging up this as a problem is a really good sign. But, with fishing, it’s better to do it based on the amount of effort that you put into fishing.  So, if you’re putting in the same amount of effort but catching less fish, there’s something that’s going wrong here.  So reducing the stock by 20% - it might work.  It might be the right number, but it would be better to put things in place that are based on the amount of effort of fishing, rather than quantity.

Kat - And should we all basically eat less tuna - would that be a good idea?

Felicity - Yes.  Changing to smaller fish like mackerel or sardines - the stuff which could be a bit more sustainable.

Kat - Certainly food for thought. Thanks very much Felicity.





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