There’s only one Wild Planet, and we believe in respecting the resources it gives us. Tuna is a vital resource that is integral for a balanced marine ecosystem and for providing global food security and nutrition. But what should you know about this important fish? In honor of World Tuna Day, we’re sharing eight tuna facts all tuna-lovers should know.
World Tuna Day is a day that was created by the UN in 2016 to bring awareness to conservation management of tuna1. Globally, many countries depend on tuna for economic development, food security and nutrition, however wild stocks of tuna are declining and estimated to be fished at unsustainable levels. This unsustainable level of fishing does not allow the tuna species to reproduce in a way that replenishes the ocean. To address these concerns, the UN implemented an international legal framework to the UN Fish Stocks agreement that has helped to strengthen the Code of Conduct for Sustainable Fishery, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement.
2) How many types of tuna are there?
There are fifteen species of tuna, however the most common species in the food market are: Albacore, Bigeye Tuna, Yellowfin, and Skipjack.2
3) What do tuna eat?
Tuna are predatory animals and eat smaller marine life like sardines, anchovies, mackerels, mollusks, lobsters, crawfish, squids, shellfish and more.3
4) Why are tuna important to the ecosystem?
Tuna play an important role in helping to manage their marine environment. Tuna are apex predators in the marine food chain and help to keep certain marine life in ecological balance. Additionally, tuna provide for primary producers “by swimming, diving, eating, excreting and dying, [the] tuna [then] mix water layers, store carbon and cycle nutrients that fuel the whole ocean food chain.”4
5) How is wild tuna caught?
There are several fishing methods used for catching tuna in the fishing industry, however, not all fishing methods are created equal.
- Pole & Line: The most sustainable way to catch tuna is pole & line. This method has been used for centuries and allow fishermen to catch migratory, surface swimming tuna one-by-one. This method eliminates bycatch, and because it’s targeted, allows fishermen to catch the right sized tuna, allowing juveniles to grow and reproduce.
- Trolling: This is another sustainable fishing method that involves towing artificial lures behind a slow-moving boat at the surface of the water. Boats might travel anywhere from 4-7 mph.5 When fishing for tuna, vessels rig their boats with 10-20 barbless fishing lines that appeals to the targeted species: swimming albacore.
- Purse Seines with the use of FADs: FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) are radio-beaconed floating devices that attract all types of fish beyond a targeted species. Small fish, juvenile tunas, and larger predators like sharks, turtles and dolphins are attracted to the FADs and often caught along with the tuna, and subsequently killed and discarded. Juvenile tuna being caught results in lost food supply and bycatch mortality disrupts the ocean’s natural balance and threatens local communities’ food security.
- Long-Line Fishing: This is the most common method used to catch albacore worldwide. Long-line fishing uses long lines that attract a variety of ocean species beyond tuna. Endangered sea turtles, sharks, and other fish also bite the bait creating wasteful bycatch mortality and an unbalanced ocean ecosystem.
Thanks to stricter regulations around fishing quotas, scientists announced last year that, “Atlantic bluefin tuna moved from Endangered to Least Concern, Southern bluefin tuna moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered, and both the albacore and yellowfin tunas moved from Near Threatened to Least Concern.”6 However, despite some recovering stocks globally, certain regions are still being affected by tuna overfishing and their stocks are still depleted causing economic and nutritional deprivation for local fishermen communities. It’s important to create more demand for the sustainable fishing methods to ensure the stocks can truly recover.
7) Is my tuna sustainable?
As mentioned previously, there are many ways to catch tuna, some more wasteful than others. GreenPeace urges consumers to opt for more sustainably-sourced tuna such as pole & line caught tuna. Look for brands that can explicitly make this claim on their can.
Using the pole & line method, Wild Planet is able to catch tuna that swim closer to the surface. These fish are smaller and lower in mercury than some other conventional brands that use deep sea methods and catch larger, older tuna. The larger the tuna, the higher the mercury. Skipjack are naturally lower in mercury than some other species of tuna and is recommended as a “best choice” fish for consuming by the FDA while albacore is considered a “good choice”.