The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has announced that the purse-seine operations of the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) skipjack tuna fishery that are targeting free schools (i.e. not using FADs – fish-aggregating devices), has been certified as sustainable. To be certified, the PNA had to demonstrate that the stock targeted in this fishery is healthy, that the fishing practice used has minimal environmental impact and that, overall, the fishery is sustainably managed.
The MSC press release indicates that ‘as a result of this certification, 30% of the skipjack caught in the PNA fishery, and 16% of the skipjack caught in the WCPFC convention area is eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel’. Overall, this represents a catch of more than 260,000 tonnes, to be sold in Europe and North America, mainly as canned tuna.
The MSC’s Pacific fisheries manager stated that: ‘Increasingly consumers, and the seafood supply chain itself, are seeking out tuna products that can be verified as coming from a sustainable source. By gaining MSC certification for its free school operations, the PNA skipjack tuna fishery has put itself in a good position to capitalise on this growing movement, and we expect demand for their certified tuna products to be high.’
The PNA director indicated that ‘In partnership with a European corporation, Sustunable, the PNA has created Pacifical, a corporate enterprise that will trade and promote MSC-certified and socially accredited tuna caught in PNA waters. In future, customers in Europe will be able to see on a can of tuna the brand Pacifical, which will assure them the tuna is from our waters and that it meets the highest environmental and social standards’.
In European markets, there is increasing demand for fish from sustainable sources, and tuna is no exception. Recently some major EU retailers have made public commitments to source their tuna from sustainable sources, with a particular focus on pole-and-line caught tuna. However, questions have been raised about pole-and-line tuna, notably its economic viability and the volumes available to processors for canning tuna. Certainly, the certification of this fishery may help to gradually meet the gap between the demand for sustainable tuna and what is currently on offer. The interesting aspect of this case is the fact that the PNA is already going a step further, and is looking at how to deliver both environmentally and socially sustainable sourced tuna, through establishing their own brand Pacifical. On-shore tuna processing is generally recognised as an important source of jobs. In this case, inasmuch as skipjack provides rather low-quality tuna meat, it will be difficult to get a premium on price, even for eco-labelled skipjack. The main benefits will therefore be that sales of eco-labelled skipjack will get a boost, and lead to more jobs being created in the onshore processing sector. It is important that such a contribution to job creation is recognised through appropriate labelling, provided that such jobs comply with decent working conditions.