To most people, fish is fish whether it’s canned or fresh from the lake. Tuna has, historically, been one of the most widely consumed seafood products in the United States. But in recent years, it has seen a drop in position to farmed shrimp. Nevertheless, people continue to enjoy canned tuna. Canned tuna has long raised controversial issues such as overfishing which result in fishery depletion and by catch that threatens other fish. However, canned tuna isn’t just what it looks like on the surface. There are hidden secrets in your canned tuna that you need to know. For the canned tuna to be affordable and easily accessible to everyone, there are certain things the tuna industry is doing.
1. Use of Fish Aggregating Devices
The theory behind fish aggregating devices (FDAs) is that the fish in the open ocean are attracted to floating objects. The devices are attached to a radio beacon where they relay their position back to a given tuna boat. Since the objects are left there for a long time, they begin to grow plants and algae which attract smaller fish and the smaller fish attract larger predators. These predators are mainly tuna fish which flock to these FDAs because of the food source.
When the tuna boats return they scoop and wipe of the entire ecosystem. The FDA system is effective in increasing the catch rate for tuna but it greatly increases the bycatch rate of other species. Additionally, FDA’s don’t just attract tuna alone, they are also mesmerizing to billfish, sharks and other sea animals. The solution to this FDA issue is that when buying canned tuna, you should go for brands that guarantee FDA-free fishing or tuna caught through pole and line techniques.
Longlining as a form of fishing is one of the destructive practices that tuna fishermen use which incur a tremendous amount of bycatch. We would expect them to use purse seines which are mindful of other sea life. Specifically, the canned white (albacore) are using long line to catch their tuna in the cheapest way possible. So the longline set up uses thick ropes or cables suspended across open ocean from buoy to buoy sometimes can be multiple miles at a stretch. Then smaller fishing lines are attached to the longlines at regular intervals and at the end of each fishing line, there is a hook or bait attached.
The tuna boat sets up multiple of this longlines during the day and then they return in the evening to reel them. Longlines method, unlike FDA, isn’t selective which happens to be the greatest killer of turtles. The turtle gets hooked to the fishing lines and since they are unable to return to the surface to breathe they drown and die. The same case applies to other sea animals that get hooked and die in the process. It’s estimated that the total bycatch rate of this massive destructive operation is about 30 percent of the total take. Meaning nearly one-third of the total catch of tuna albacore, translates to thousands of tons per year of turtles, sharks, seabirds and other casualties being caught as well. To reduce this destruction, when buying white tuna, buy pole-and-line albacore.
3. Unregulated Fishing
It’s a requirement that fishermen fish within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These zones extend 200 miles off the coast of a given nation, meaning beyond that lies a part of the ocean that is governed by no man. So tuna fishermen are turning to these lawless parts of the ocean to make a fortune pillaging the ocean as much tuna as they can get their hands on. In this no man’s land, they can catch as many tuna as they want, they can use any technique of fishing they want and they can impose damage to the ecosystem which isn’t acceptable within EEZ. As a customer, if you care about ocean life, only buy tuna caught within managed EEZ waters.
Apart from maintaining an eco-friendly environment when fishing tuna, there are other items that you will find in your can of tuna which aren’t just tuna and water. Most tuna companies preserve their tuna and bulk out the packaging with hydrogenated rancid oils like canola and soybean. Additionally, you might find flavorings, preservatives, and many more harmful things. These ingredients cause cardiovascular issues, increase inflammation and degrade your digestive health. Canned tuna can stay just as fresh for a few days, hence there isn’t the need for the preservatives. The manufacturers should keep it simple for the sake of our health.
In an effort to force tuna pirates out of their watery backyards, tuna-rich but cash poor Pacific island states have come together to take charge of their fisheries. These states are collectively known as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). Their main interest is to foster a sustainable and equitable tuna industry that protects both the ocean’s tuna populations and the people that depend on it.
All images by Pixabay