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Tuna Industry Initiative Promises To Achieve Tuna Sustainability

An unprecedented initiative in the tuna industry, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) was officially launched yesterday in Boston, U.S, with promises of putting science above all to achieve the conservation of tuna stocks.

“Eminent marine scientists, major figures in the non-profit environmental community and leaders of the seafood industry have joined forces to establish the ISSF, a non-profit organization developed to respond to the growing threats to global tuna populations”, states ISSF press release.

The founders of ISSF are Bolton Alimentari; Bumble Bee Foods, LLC / Clover Leaf Seafoods; MW Brands; Princes Ltd.; Sea Value Co., Ltd.; StarKist Co.; Thai Union Manufacturing Co. Ltd / Chicken of the Sea Intl.; TriMarine International; and WWF, the global conservation organization.

The ISSF Science Committee is chaired by Dr. James Joseph. With more than 50 years of experience, Dr. Joseph is considered by many to be the dean of science-based tuna conservation. The committee also includes scientists from each of the tuna RFMOs, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the Commission of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

As a head start, ISSF already published three resolutions and desires to begin its work with them.

The Foundation adopted conservation measures to refrain from using tuna from any boat listed by an RFMO as being engaged in illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and refrain from using eastern Pacific bigeye tuna after Sept. 1, 2009, unless the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission enacts science-based conservation measures before then.

As a third measure, it will concentrate efforts so that the RFMOs have more accurate and complete data from their member countries to work with: “Strongly encourage states, organizations and industry to provide data within their control to the RFMO scientific bodies”, says the resolution.

Leading the ISSF staff is Susan Jackson, the President of the Foundation, and also a speaker for the European Tuna Conference 2009. She spoke with Atuna.com minutes before the launch about the functionality and the objectives of the new organization.

Along with her, the Vice Chair, Mr. William Fox, Managing Director for Fisheries of WWF-U.S., explained how the Foundation will work with the RFMOs to ensure compliance to tuna conservation measures from their member countries.

Atuna.com: How will the ISSF work on a daily basis?

Susan Jackson: The Scientific Committee (SC) is going to meet at least twice a year. So for any bans recommended from the SC meeting, Dr. Joseph will review the scientific reports from the RFMOs and prepare an updated report. Therefore, when the SC meets they can work on that report and present their recommendation to ISSF board of directors, which will meet quarterly. Between each board meeting there will be either RFMOs scientific committee meetings, or RFMOs annual meetings, so new developments will be presented at every board meeting in which ISSF can react on those issues.

Is there any permanent staff working exclusively for ISSF?

Jackson: Right now I’m the only full-time employee of the Foundation; we have a position open for an employee in the European Union that we are looking to fill in. Hopefully we’ll start the interviews for that soon. In addition we have an agency here in the U.S. providing their expertise in communications.    

Taking into account the resolutions published by ISSF, are the founder companies considering implementing some track system to assure their tuna products origin?

Jackson: The companies already have very well traceability systems in place due several factors. For one, in order to sell tuna in the United States you need to provide a code on every tuna can that can be traced to a vessel, or cannery. In addition, these companies feel that is important in case of the event of a consumer recall. However, one thing that will be on the board agenda for April is to formalizing the traceability. The companies are already doing it, the government is monitoring what they are doing in compliance with import documentation, and we just want to make that system more transparent.

How does the ISSF intend to work along with the decision-making processes of the tuna RFMOs and their member countries?

Bill Fox: I believe I can answer that question. There are a number of ways that ISSF will help the RFMOs work. One is to support the science that is needed for their scientific committees to give their recommendations. There are data holes and ISSF will be funding research and data collection to address that. The Foundation will also be talking to the industry in various countries in order to make them support the recommendations from the SC and finally ISSF will be talking to the governments to get their support for the RFMOs recommendations. We will use the large market share that the members of ISSF have to influence the industry and governments to abide to conservation measures. All the RFMOs fall short in that. The EPO Bigeye resolution is an example on how we will be addressing that. 

Both Bigeye and IUU resolution mention the transaction refrain of processors, traders, importers, transporters and other involved in the seafood industry. How does ISSF intend to reach such a large number of sectors in the tuna industry?

Fox: Let’s use again the example of the Bigeye resolution. We all hope that IATTC will adopt a public conservation measure, if they don’t, ISSF has issued the conservation measure that applies to everybody in the tuna business worldwide, not just the ISSF member. Of course that the members are obligated to follow the measure and we will help to determine who might not be following and let the NGOs and the market know. That’s how those conservation measures will work.

Will ISSF work on a legal basis to modify laws and fisheries regulations in certain countries?

Jackson: We will be doing our best to make sure that multilateral agreements are done through the RFMOs. In that sense, we’ll be working with national governments to encourage their participation within the RFMOs, so that their conservation measures are effective.

Who would be responsible for working on those negotiations with the RFMOs, industry and governments besides the President?

Jackson: We have a very active board, very inspired about this project; they’ve already committed to dedicate a significant amount of time and resources within their companies and they will continue to do that.

How will ISSF communicate its actions to the tuna industry, NGOs and general public?

Jackson: The plan is for our website to be very transparent in communicating all of our actions. In addition, we are at the potential of other types of social networking; we are putting a plan in place for that. We want to provide all the companies and other organizations that are working with us with material as well, so they can feed their communication with the consumers or suppliers and be prepared to provide accurate information about ISSF.

Is ISSF open to new members?

Fox: Yes, the ISSF is open to any member who agrees with the principles of the organization.

Many organizations have tried, or are trying, to achieve tuna sustainability unsuccessfully through the years. How is ISSF different from them?

Jackson: ISSF is unique since it’s a partnership that includes scientists, NGOs and industry. All of them operating in a global level and have a share commitment to follow down scientific principles, working through the RFMOs, but really being lead by the science and therefore it’s free from some of the causes that have prevented the RFMOs from enacting on tuna conservation measures as we would like them to.