Data loading...

Pole-and-Line Skipjack Hard To Find

Increased interest in pole-and-line skipjack tuna products has occurred internationally over recent years, meeting internal sustainability targets and pleasing environmental groups and NGOs. But while many retailers make commitments to this catching method, lack of supply is mounting pressure on them and their suppliers.

Urged by Greenpeace, the past few years have seen most major UK retailers and brands commit to only selling pole-and-line caught skipjack in their products by 2015 or later.  Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, who had been traditionally buying pole and line already, switched their own brand entirely to pole and line, and also Tesco and Waitrose were quick off the mark with pole and line now dominating their shelves.

But while these commitments to a more environmentally sound method of tuna fishing in the UK please Greenpeace and other groups,  the question arises how realistic these claims are, being reflected in the difficulty that importers and retailers are experiencing to find a reliable supply source in order to materialize these guarantees.

John Burton, Chairman of the International Pole and Line Foundation recently said: “While the International Pole and Line Foundation recognizes that the world’s demand for tuna will never be met by pole-and-line fisheries alone – it should be noted that currently, not only is supply growing, but there is a gap between supply and demand.”

Around 337 thousand metric tons of whole round tuna per year comes from pole-and-line fishing, which accounts for only around 8 percent of the global catch. This more sustainably regarded method of fishing carries a premium on its raw material that can see retailers experience squeezed margins in case they do not pass this on to the consumer, or when competing against regular FAD caught canned skipjack tuna.

Pole-and-line tuna scatters shelves of supermarkets in the UK, Holland, Scandinavia and Germany, and while small scale commitments in the US by several retailers and recently Bumble Bee have emerged, other major markets Italy, France and Spain are yet to  follow.

More global demand however would increase the pressures on fishermen, canners and retailers are experiencing. As a result, some UK retailers have been more reluctant to sign up to Greenpeace commitments, vowing to sell FAD-free tuna as an alternative.
Sari Tolvanen, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace said: “We have always asked retailers and brands to commit to pole and line or FAD free PS tuna. We do prefer locally owned and operated sustainable and equitable pole and line operations over FAD free tuna coming for large scale industrial vessels that are often run by foreign companies. Of course whilst this industry is developed, FAD free tuna from PS is the sustainable alternative we have to have.”
Pole and Line tuna fishing can also be regarded as an unsustainable method due to use of live bait and the effects this can have on smaller species of sea life.
John Burton added: “It should be noted that the environmental impact of the bait fishery is still minor compared to the approximately 10 percent bycatch caught by purse seine fisheries each year.”
It is believed that lack of pole-and-line supply will leave the retail industry with no choice but to offer an alternative due to the pressure of Greenpeace and commit to sell FAD-free or free school caught tuna on their shelves. The MSC certified free school tuna from the PNA, which will be marketed under the Pacifical co-brand,  is considered to be the best option, also since it has the full support of WWF and Greenpeace, and a potential catch volume of 300.000 metric ton annually.