Is pole and line caught tuna better?

Is pole and line caught tuna better?

At Wild Planet, we believe the more people understand about how their tuna is caught, the better chance choices will be made that will help to ensure we have thriving ocean ecosystems in the years to come. Sustainable fishing methods, namely pole and line fishing, are critical to protecting our oceans and the variety of life they support. They also benefit fishing communities around the world by providing financial and nutritional sustenance.

Fisherman holding tuna

The world loves tuna, especially canned tuna. It’s no wonder, after all it’s a protein-packed, low-calorie seafood that provides essential EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Just how much the world loves tuna may be surprising:

  • Americans eat about one billion pounds of canned and pouched tuna each year.
  • The European Union and the U.S. consume over 80 percent of the world’s canned tuna.
Tuna trioIn light of how much tuna is consumed, it’s imperative that responsible fishing practices are used so that the ocean ecosystem remains healthy and balanced and so that there is enough tuna for our children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, overfishing and wasteful fishing methods plague the industry and are leading to a depletion of fish stocks and negative environmental impacts.
One of the most effective ways to combat this is to educate and inspire consumers to choose sustainably sourced canned tuna. However, making this choice can be difficult given the myriad of confusing and sometimes misleading claims on packaging. The one way to be sure that a can of tuna adheres to the highest sustainability standards is to look for language that clearly states the tuna was “pole & line caught,” but what does that mean? How does pole and line tuna fishing work?

Boat side

Pole and Line Fishing – An Age-Old Practice with the Future in Mind

People often ask, “what is line and pole tuna?” The proper terminology, however, is “pole and line” and with this sustainable fishing method, skilled fishermen from small fishing communities all around the world engage in a practice that has been handed down from one generation to the next. They stand on a boat and utilize one pole and one line all with the intention of selectively catching tuna. When they locate a school of tuna, they will use bait to bring younger, migratory tuna to the surface of the water. They cast their line into the ocean and the fish are attracted to the feathered, barbless lure.  When the tuna bites, the fishermen quickly pull the fish out of the water one-at-a-time, onto the back of the boat, where it easily releases itself from the hook. 

This method targets only the intended tuna species. However, should an occasional unintended species or infant fish end up on the line, they are immediately tossed back into the water with a good chance of survival. Thus, the amount of bycatch (species unintentionally caught in the process of fishing a targeted catch) is minimized with the pole and line method. This is in stark contrast to the practices employed by large, industrial fishing organizations that utilize fish aggregating devices (FADs) that attract a wide variety of sea life to an area and then indiscriminately scoop them up in a purse seine net. Too often, bycatch turns into bycatch mortality discard where the non-targeted fish are left to die and then tossed overboard as waste.

The one-fish-at-a-time pole and line method is an age-old way of fishing. While it’s not the cheapest, fastest or easiest way to catch tuna, it’s without a doubt the most sustainable— using the least amount of gear, providing a livelihood for fishing communities around the world and importantly, preserving the most amount of sea life. 

Is Pole and Line Caught Tuna Better?

Using the pole and line method benefits our ocean habitat, our fishing communities, and our planet in a number of ways.

1. It avoids overfishing. The UN estimates that the global fishing fleet is 2.5 times greater than it needs to be to catch a sustainable number of fish. In fact, a single trip of giant fishing boats can yield as much tuna as some Pacific Island states catch in a full year.
    2. It allows at-risk tuna species to thrive. Indiscriminate harvesting using FADs results in at-risk species being captured unintentionally. For example, Greenpeace Australia reports that conventional purse seine fishing with FADs may attempt to target skipjack tuna, but up to 20 percent of their catch consists of baby bigeye and yellowfin tuna.
      3. It saves the lives of bycatch. Pole and line fishing is selective, not indiscriminate. By targeting tuna specifically, and releasing bycatch immediately, no dolphins, sharks, turtles, etc. are killed.
        Boat captain
        4. It employs local fishermen. Instead of giant vessels traveling across the globe using sophisticated technology and fewer human beings, pole and line fishing employs local workers to catch the fish one-by-one. For generations fishing communities have relied on the skills of their fishermen to feed their own families and help their coastal communities flourish.
        5. It keeps harmful, polluting nets out of the water. One of the most commonly reported ocean pollutants is commercial fishing gear. According to, fishing lines, ropes and nets make up 52% of plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Beyond polluting the ocean, this discarded gear entangles and traps fish, kills marine animals and damages the marine habitat.  Pole and line fishing has considerably less gear; there is just one pole and one line and if dropped, they float and can easily be retrieved.  There are no nets or FADs deployed to lose or discard. 

          Supporting Sustainable Fishing Helps Sustain our Ocean

          When you support companies that use sustainable fishing methods and seek a brand who makes pole and line tuna, such as Wild Planet, you invest in the future health of our oceans.  Each can of sustainably caught tuna you choose to purchase makes a positive impact on our oceans so they are available for future generations to enjoy.  Ultimately, there is only one wild planet and we all must work together to protect it.  

          Wild Planet in sand
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