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“Stop Demonizing FADs” Says Lischewski

Fish aggregating devices (FADs) have been used by commercial fishermen for centuries. However, the widespread use of these floating devices to attract tuna, particularly by purse seiners, is causing considerable unease among environmental groups who are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the proportion of non-target species, such as sharks, that are also being caught.

The situation has led to calls for the introduction of FAD bans in many key fishing areas, but following such a strategy would ultimately prove a big mistake, according to Chris Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods LLP and chair of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).

Speaking with his ISSF hat on, Lischewski told delegates at the recent 4th European Tuna Conference in Brussels, Belgium, that an industry-wide FAD ban would send skipjack prices sky-high and subsequently push products beyond the reach of many current consumers.

“Let me put things in perspective,” he said. “Globally, we catch about 4.2 million metric tons (MT) of tuna per year and 2.5 million MT of that is skipjack, which is predominantly going into canned seafood. Skipjack is the lowest priced and best value protein that most consumers have today.

“Of the 2.5 million MT of skipjack, about 60 percent is caught on FADs, so if we are going to ban FAD fishing, we will triple the price of tuna and remove a great source of protein from struggling economies around the world.”

Lischewski acknowledged there has been considerable “demonization” of FADs, particularly from Europe, but suggested the problems associated with FADs were being exaggerated.

The reality is that when fishing on FADs, about 85 to 90 percent of the catch is skipjack and that less than 2 percent is made of non-target species, he said, adding that of the non-target species, more than 95 percent are species that are not of any environmental concern.

“A couple of species of shark are a concern — that’s a fact and it’s something [ISSF] is working on,” he said.

“We also catch between 10 and 15 percent of yellowfin and bigeye when fishing on FADs. There is some concern that while neither yellowfin nor bigeye stocks are in trouble today, we are at risk of overfishing bigeye and so a lot of the work in our research is not only to reduce the shark catch, but also how to reduce the mortality of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye.”

ISSF members came up with around USD 2 million (EUR 1.5 million) in research funding last year and a large proportion of this was handed over to FAD investigations, especially finding ways to reduce by-catch and how to delineate yellowfin and bigeye catches from the net.

“It’s one area where the ISSF is putting its money where its mouth is — developing the research and the science to resolve this issue,” said Lischewski. “The bottom line is ISSF members are investing significant funding, personnel time and other resources to the identification and development of solutions to sustainability challenges.”

The ISSF’s objective over the next five to 10 years is to have a global tuna fishery — all gear types, all oceans — that can meet the criteria of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), he said and pointed to the report the foundation released toward the end of February that assessed the status of global tuna stocks according to the methodology developed by the MSC. It scored the current health of the 19 commercially fished tuna stocks and found that most were stable.

“We think from a stock management and environmental impact point that we are going to be able to make very rapid progress. Tuna stocks are generally pretty healthy and we think we have a pretty good feel for the actions that need to be taken for further improvement.”

However, the report also found the management systems that are in place are not as effective as they should be. ISSF believes these failings are largely attributable to the lack of harvest control rules and/or specific reference points in the guidelines of the four main tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs).

Lischewski said the “political will does not exist” within the RFMOs to adopt the policies that are necessary to bring about change and this has proved a major challenge.

“RFMOs are consensus-based organizations. In the Western Central Pacific, I think we have 48 nations that are members, sub-coastal nations, some distant water nations but when scientists put forward a conservation policy, it needs to be adopted unanimously. What’s the chance of that?

“ISSF can only be successful in the long-term if governments stand up. We are trying to lead the way and generate industry, retail and ultimately consumer support to encourage governments to take the necessary action at the RFMO level,” he said.