Tuna heavily overfished, toxic and threatened with extinction. Help to protect tuna.
What can you do?
Film: Bescherm de tonijn
What do we want?
|1.||Stop consuming tuna; this is better for tuna stocks and for your health.|
|2.||Donate to Seafirst and support their campaign to save stocks of wild tuna from extinction.|
|3.||Total ban of fishing for 10 years or at least a total fishing ban between May and July, during the spawning season.|
|4.||Cancel fisheries subsidies, including on tuna fleets.|
|5.||Stop the use of Purse Seine (ring net) by fishermen who capture immature tuna for fish farms.|
|6.||Shut down tuna farms.|
|7.||Reduce tuna fleet by 70%.|
Tuna are predator fish that can reach speeds of 80 km/hr.
Tuna are ray-finned fish (class Actinopterygii,). They belong to the order of Perch-like fish (Perciformes) and mackerels (Scombridae). The Latin name is Thunnus. Tuna can reach swimming speeds of 80km/hr. Tuna have high-endurance 'red' muscles, which allow them to swim for long periods. Because bluefin tuna (bluefin) have a slightly higher core body temperature, they can survive in and adapt to cooler waters than other fish species. Tuna are predator fish and feed on mackerel, squid, herring and jellyfish. They can be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Pacific Ocean and sometimes even in the North Sea.
There are different species of tuna, all of which are threatened by overfishing.
Around 1940, the global tuna catch was 300,000 tons, most of it fished by hook and line. In 2010, 4,000,000 tons of tuna were caught, primarily with purse-seine nets. 68% are caught in the Pacific Ocean (South Pacific Ocean), 22% in the Indian Ocean and 10% in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Catches of skipjack represent approximately 60% of global commercial tuna, followed by yellow fin tuna (24%), Big-eye tuna (10%), Albacore (5%) and bluefin tuna (only 1 to 2%). The southern bluefin tuna and the northern bluefin tuna are threatened with extinction. The Big-eye tuna and yellow fin tuna are heavily overfished . The long-tail tuna, the blackfin tuna and the white tuna or albacore are overfished. In the months of May, June and July, the Atlantic bluefin tuna migrate in large numbers from the Atlantic Ocean to the warmer Mediterranean Sea to spawn. Tuna-fishing has been practised in the Mediterranean for at least 2,000 years. However, large-scale industrial fisheries have caused the demise of large tuna. In the next 20 years, the kind of fishing that humans have practiced for thousands of years will be confined to the dustbin of history. Stocks of bluefin tuna are at an all-time low, a mere 10% of its population size 50 years ago. Top specimens of 900kg have disappeared altogether; the largest tuna now weigh in at only 300 kg. In 2010, the average recorded weight was between 40 and 80 kg. The tuna fleet has an over-capacity of 400%. That means that industrial fisheries are exceeding the sustainable limit by more than four-fold. High-tech boats equipped with the latest detection equipment and ever-increasing catch capacity are racing to capture a handful of fish in the last-remaining spawning areas of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite an international ban, small planes are employed to detect the tuna quickly and efficiently. Not a single fish slips under the radar. Furthermore, tuna catch from illegal, unreported fishing is another major cause for concern.
|Tuna has been the victim of heavy overfishing for many years. This fish species is worth billions on the black market. Fishermen have no qualms exceeding the imposed quota.|
Over-consumption of bluefin tuna and other tuna species
Bluefin tuna, otherwise known as giant tuna, are mainly eaten as sushi and sashimi. The consumption of sushi and sashimi in particular has driven the bluefin tuna to the edge of extinction. Bluefin tuna is now classified as 'critically endangered'. Humanity's insatiable demand for tuna continues to rise. The viswijzer * is a 'good fish guide' to sustainably caught and ethically sourced fish that are not endangered. Bluefin tuna is on the Red list. No tuna species are left on the Green list. At least 85 percent of tuna caught in Europe is exported to Japan. Tuna connoisseurs turn their noses up at pen-reared tuna. A low-quality, low-cost product. Farmed tuna is used in the mass production of sushi and sashimi in cheaper sushi restaurants and supermarkets. According to scientists, conservationists and environmental organisations, market traders and fish specialists, the mass export of tuna for the Japanese market is largely to blame for sounding the death knell for the bluefin tuna. Reports emanating from the big Tsukiji fish market and all other fish auction in Japan confirm the sense of impending doom. The sight of fresh bluefin tuna being pen-reared in the Mediterranean Sea is what Spanish tuna expert Roberto Mielgo calls 'bloodcurdling'. With mounting anger and desperation, he sums up the Japanese data from his office in Malta: 'Here, a 33-kilo tuna from Tunisia, here a 49-kilogram tuna from Spain, and another weighing only 28 kilograms: all less than the minimum permitted size. When I worked in Libya and Tunisia, the average weight of these fish was 250 kilos. And now this. It's catastrophic.'
Tuna steaks contain high concentrations of mercury and other toxic metals that can damage our health. As a fast-swimming predator, tuna are located high up in the food chain. The higher up in the food chain a fish is, the more toxic it becomes. A large number of organisations, such as the American FDA, even advise pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children of all ages against eating tune. These polluted tuna are also the most important cause of bacterial pollution in our food chain. Sometimes their values are under the norm, but they are never free of pollution. According to the European Commission, the simplest way of consuming fewer PCBs and dioxins is to eat less fish or fewer fish oils. The consequences of contamination of tuna and other large predatory fish on human health are frightening. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that fish eaters with high levels of PCBs in their blood have difficulty recalling information that they learned just 30 minutes earlier. High doses of highly toxic dioxins, heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury, tributylin (a highly toxic chemical found in paint used on boats), PCBs (polychlorobiphenyls), PBBs, PBDEs, PBDDs, PBDFs , POPs, furans, the radioactive isotope strontium-90, chemical protection agents such as DDT and dieldrin, and even flame retardants have been found in tuna. Many of these toxins accumulate in fatty tissues. The bigger the fish and the higher up in the food chain it is, the more polluted it is. That is why tuna is often heavily polluted. Every time we eat tuna, this cocktail of toxic chemicals is stored in our bodies (often in fat deposits), where it remains stored for many years to come. These hazardous substances accumulate over time, disrupting our hormonal system, potentially causing cancer, suppressing our immune system, damaging our liver, brain, kidneys and disrupting children's development. The toxins we absorb through our skin stay in us and are passed on to our unborn babies. 63,000 different chemicals, lots of heavy metals, radioactive waste, plastics and their xeno oestrogens, more than 200 different PCBs and 200 dioxins used in human activities end up in the sea. Fish swim in the polluted waters and absorb this pollution through their gills. Small fishes eat polluted plankton. A lot of this pollution is stored in the fat of the fish. Larger fish eat small fish. The bigger the fish, the greater the amount of toxic substances stored. Salmon and tuna are more polluted than sardines. This is because a lot of the pollution remains inside the tuna. It accumulates over the years, until the fish is eventually eaten by humans. It's a Catch 22 situation. Pollution that was originally created by man is now consumed by man through tuna (tuna salad, canned tuna and sushi and tuna sashimi).
|Everyone cheats. It's like driving a car: we'll speed when we know there are no police cars nearby||Tuna disastrous trade regulation and turning a blind eye control|
The consumption of predatory fish such as tuna is the main cause of mercury poisoning in humans. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include itching, pain, skin discolouration, edema and a persistently faster-than-normal heart beat. Extreme cases can cause loss of hair, nails and teeth, kidney dysfunction and memory loss.
Toxic sushi made with endangered tuna, the worst-case scenario
Bluefin tuna contain dangerously high levels of mercury. The most expensive sushi , made with the critically endangered bluefin tuna, is toxic. Researchers at the University of Colombia in the US collected 100 sushi samples from 54 restaurants and found that they contained high concentrations of mercury. A technique known as DNA bar coding was used to reveal species-specific mercury levels in a piece of sushi. The bigger the tuna, the higher the levels of mercury pollution. The most expensive sushi, akami, is made from bluefin tuna and has the highest concentration of mercury. The levels of mercury found in a single portion of akami were, on average, greater than the concentrations considered safe to consume in one day by various organisations, such as the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO). Some samples contained double the limit for mercury. Five species of tuna are used in the production of sushi: the southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), the eastern tuna (Thunnus orientalis), the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), the Big-eye tuna (Thunnus obesus) and the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares). Of the five species, the southern bluefin tuna and the bluefin tuna are most directly threatened with extinction.
|Tuna remains extremely popular in Japan||The most expensive sushi variant akami, made of bluefin tuna (front right of picture), contains the highest concentration of mercury.|
Jacob H. Lowenstein e.a., 'DNA barcodes reveal species-specific mercury levels in tuna sushi that pose a health risk to consumers', in Biology Letters, 21 April 2010.
Movie: Cutting of the bluefin tuna for sushi
Tuna as a key indicator of the state of fish stocks and the marine ecosystem
According to experts, yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna may be commercially extinct in three to five years if fishing is not controlled. In the future, fish fingers may well be considered a rarity, and a luxury. Populations of top predators, a key indicator of ecosystem health, are disappearing at a frightening rate, and 90 percent of the large fish that some of us love to eat, such as tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder - have been fished out since large scale industrial fishing began in the 1950s. The depletion of these top predator species can cause a shift in entire oceans ecosystems where commercially valuable fish are replaced by smaller, plankton-feeding fish. This century may even see bumper crops of jellyfish replacing the fish consumed by humans.
The consumption of tuna and scombroid poisoning (histamine poisoning)
In southern countries where a lot of tuna is caught, the warm climate promotes enterobacterial growth and histamine formation in newly caught fish. Cooking, frying or freezing the fish once it has been contaminated will not kill the toxin. The symptoms of food poisoning after the consumption of scombroid fish, shortly after ingestion, include diarrhoea, flushing and sweating, erythema, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal cramp, palpitations, burning sensation in the mouth, swelling of the face, urticaria or skin rash, fever, dizziness, chest tightness, hypotension and, in extreme cases, shock. Symptoms begin within 2 minutes to several hours after eating 'spoiled' fish, and can last for up to 24 hours. Scombroid poisoning cannot be detected by the taste of the tuna. Fresh fish, which contains < 1 mg histamine per 100 g, is not the cause of scombroid poisoning, as this requires a degree of spoilage. The optimum temperature for bacterial growth is 20-30°C. Scombroid fish have high levels of histidine within their muscle tissue. When freshly caught fish is stored at excessively high temperatures, this histidine is converted into histamine in the muscle tissue by decarboxyling enterobacteriaceae released from the gut of the fish. In humans, histamine is usually broken down after ingestion in the digestive tract by histamine N-methyl transferase and diamine oxidase (DAO). If the concentration of histamine during ingestion is very high, as is the case with scombroid intoxication, or if the patient displays a reduced DAO activity, the ingestion of histamine may lead to clinical complications.
|Food poisoning can occur when the tuna after capture is stored at high temperatures.|
People taking DAO-inhibiting medication such as isoniazid are more susceptible to scombroid poisoning. Most histamine is formed in the muscle tissue of fish around the digestive tract, and absorbed into the rest of the fish as it decomposes. This explains why, besides possible differences in tolerance levels, some people develop fewer or no complications after consuming the same piece of tuna. Histamine poisoning caused by the consumption of fish is not only associated with Scombroidea such as tuna, mackerel, skipjack and bonito, but also more exotic non-scombroid fish such as mahi-mahi, bluefish and amberjack and even herring, sardine, anchovy and certain types of cheese. Despite the fact that most of the instances described were caused by the consumption of fish, the term scombroid poisoning may be too narrow in scope, and histamine poisoning might be a more apt description. For the control of histamine in fish belonging to the Scombridae family and a number of other fish species, including herring, the European Union has established maximum levels, stipulating that out of nine independent samples from each batch, the mean value must not exceed 100 ppm and that a maximum of two samples may have a value of more than 100 ppm but less than 200 ppm; No sample may have a value exceeding 200 ppm.
Movie: The story of the bluefin tuna
Tuna and large bycatch
Sharks, sea turtles and 300,000 sea birds are killed each year as a result of tuna bycatch. Environment organisations, the business community and governments know this. To reduce bycatch, the traditional J-shaped hooks on long-liners have been replaced with specially designed circle hooks. However, this measure alone has failed to reduce bycatch to below the 40% benchmark.
|A large yellowfin tuna being cut into pieces. According to experts, yellow-fin tuna and big-eye tuna may be commercially extinct in three to five years if fishing is not controlled.||In 2011, a bluefin tuna fetched a record price at Tsukiji fish market's first auction of the year: a staggering 300,000 euros was paid for a tuna weighing 342 kilo.|
Movie: Spearfishing on bluefin tuna (282kg)
Tuna and tuna farms
Because of the increasing scarcity of large tuna, smaller, immature tuna are increasingly being caught. These smaller, freshly caught tuna are transferred to farm pens where they are fattened up with smaller fish. The confinement of huge numbers of tuna at high stocking density, the use of antibiotics and the high production of faeces mean that tuna pens should never have seen the light of day. Tuna farms are neither healthy for fish or man, nor environmentally friendly, nor ethical. Europe, Australia and Japan are specialists in 'tuna factories'. In Japan, attempts are being made to turn tuna eggs into fattened tuna (Kindai tuna). The battery hen of the oceans. Increasingly smaller tuna are being penned up in these farms, and pumped full of food, The 'tuna farms' along the Mediterranean coast, in which immature tuna are penned up only to end up as deep-frozen torpedoes in the cold-storage warehouses of large Japanese conglomerates, are accelerating the demise of wild tuna. The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the cradle of the tuna industry. Tuna connoisseurs turn their noses up at pen-reared tuna. A low quality, low-cost product. Farmed tuna is used in the mass production of sushi and sashimi in cheaper sushi restaurants and supermarkets. How can a pen-reared tuna, which is barely capable of swimming, possibly be compared to a wild tuna that swims thousands of miles at speeds of up to 80km/hr to spawn? Tuna aquaculture or farming was developed in Australia for the catch of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean. During the mass spawning season, schools of tuna swim close to the surface, where they are caught in fishing nets. The nets filled with tuna are slowly towed to the shore, where the tuna are guided into the floating pens of the tuna farms. Here, they remain caged for four to six months. They are then slaughtered with harpoons and guns.
The tuna trade, disastrous legislation
and control measures that turn a blind eye
The fishing quota set by ICCAT for the Atlantic tuna are significantly higher than considered sustainable by fishery experts and biologists. Furthermore, the official bodies know only too well that quotas can be bypassed. In fact, the EU subsidises Spanish, Italian and French tuna fisheries. Since the 1990s, with the aid of EU subsidies, the purse seine fleets of Spain, France and Italy have been dramatically modernised. And now, again with EU subsidies, attempts are being made to reduce the fleet overcapacity. With little effect. European purse seine vessels from France sail under the Algerian flag: working for the same tuna farms, the same wholesale buyers and the same Japanese market. Italy, France, Iceland, Spain, Japan, China and Libya in March 2010 rejected a proposal to add bluefin tuna to the CITES list, a list of critically endangered species. Had bluefin tuna been added, it would have meant a total ban on tuna fishing. Mitsubishi Corporation, the famous car manufacturer, is the single largest importer of Atlantic bluefin and has its own tuna fleet and tuna fattening operations. Mitsubishi fishing boats can often be found along the Algerian coast, with km long liners filled with hooks. Algeria does not keep catch statistics for tuna species. Libya has not reported to ICCAT any catch statistics since 2004. Under ICCAT regulations, Turkey does not yet have a quota for bluefin tuna, yet continues catching. Croatia has been misreporting its official catch sizes. Illegally caught tuna caught a barely regulated loophole find their way to tuna farms along the Mediterranean coastlines. The Italian mafia is involved in the bluefin trade. Fraud and embezzlement are fuelling the plunder of the world's tuna populations. The black market in tuna caught and traded outside quota allowances makes its way to Japan and sushi and sashimi restaurants around the world. "It's pure greed" believes Roberto Mielgo, independent expert at WWF and Greenpeace.
|Greenpeace demands an immediate ban on fishing in international waters to allow stocks to recover and to combat illegal practices|
Movie: The world's largest tuna fishing vessel
Findings confirmed by consumer organisation Testaankoop
Canned tuna contains excess amounts of salt, mercury and undisclosed traces of soy or allergens. Tuna is heavily overfished and tuna fishing is having a destructive impact on the entire ecosystem. Working conditions on fishing boats are extremely arduous are barely regulated. Eating tuna is neither good for tuna, nor for the environment, nor ethical.
Movie: See the crew of a tuna seiner in action
Tuna catch along the coast of southern Spain: Almadraba.
As soon as the ring nets are drawn up, the seawater appears to turn slowly to the boil. Small ripples start to appear on the surface of the water . The first metal-coloured silhouettes of tuna can be seen, shooting up like meters-long torpedoes, desperately trying to find a way out of the nets. The noise of the tuna thrashing and beating their powerful tails on the water as they fight for their lives drown out the captain's shouts and whistles. And then, suddenly, it begins to rain fish: the violent sweeping of tails hurl hundreds of mackerel through the air. The mackerel land on the deck of the sloops. The ship then changes course and return to the port, where Japanese wholesale buyers are waiting to inspect the fish and transfer them to their container ships. The smell of tuna wafts from the small fishing town of Barbate, to the west of Gibraltar. The tuna catch is known locally as 'almadraba'. It is the oldest fishing tradition in the western world: an earthly ritual, practiced on an industrial scale by the Phoenicians and the Romans. Scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past. No more tuna. No more giant tuna. All gone…. Diego Crespo, director of the almadraba of Zahara de los Atunes, sighs. The season started three weeks ago and to date, only seven tuna have been netted. The results of the three other almadrabas, along the southern coast of the province of Cádiz, strike an equally downbeat note The result so far: around one hundred tuna, that's all. 'We're catching fewer tuna each year', explains Crespo. 'If it continues like this, we won't be able to keep ourselves financially afloat.' Even the high prices that the Japanese are prepared to pay for the exclusive 'wild' bluefin tuna of the almadraba are no longer sufficient to fund the costs of operating a huge fleet.
ICCAT, the tuna mafia.
Forty-six contracting parties, including the European Union, are members of ICCAT, an organisation charged with monitoring stocks of Atlantic tuna, the red tuna or the bluefin tuna. The Commission establishes catch quotas, issues guidelines on the minimum weight of fish, and imposes limits on the catching season. However, in practice the organisation has turned into a 'plaything', at the mercy of the powerful tuna fisheries and their huge financial interests. It is often jokingly referred to as 'the International Conspiracy to Catch all Tuna'. According to experts, the estimated capacity is at least 3 times the level needed to fish scientists at a level consistent sustainable level. Conservationists and environmentalists have called the decision disgraceful. As so often happens in Europe, member states were more interested in pursuing vendettas and settling old scores.
Movie: Overfishing of tuna, sharks and albatross in the South Pacific
Canned tuna: the Seychelles and the ISSF and WWF
The 2nd biggest tuna processing plant in the world is located in the Seychelles. Each day, 400 tons of fish from the Indian Ocean are squeezed into cans. According to scientists and activists, a boycott of tuna from this region is imminent. A fifth of all fish in the world is caught in the Seychelles. Industrial fishing pulverises local population. A boycott is called for. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), a global partnership of eight major trading companies and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), promotes sustainability in the sector. Nevertheless, the big-eye tuna, the yellowfin tuna and the white tuna overfishing in most areas. "The tuna industry should take steps to safeguard its own survival by advocating sustainability", argues Fox.
Sea Shepherd launches campaign against tuna overfishing
Brigitte Bardot is embroiled in conflict along the Libyan coast. A sailing vessel bearing the name of the animal rights activist and former actress will soon be heading to the conflict zone in the Libyan waters to disrupt the illegal catch of red tuna. The 15-man crew aboard the vessel will accompany another vessel of the environmental organisation Sea Shepherd. The boat will later make its way to Denmark to demonstrate against the killing of dolphins. In Antarctica, the "Brigitte Bardot" will be deployed in a mission to save whales.
The conservation society Sea Shepherd has launched a campaign against the illegal catch of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea. The campaign will run until mid July, and activists plan to target poachers operating in different areas, including in Libyan waters. The legal fishing period for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea is mid-May to mid-June, but even during that period the catch is capped by strict international quotas. The organisation says that it will do everything possible within the boundaries of international law to protect the endangered bluefin tuna. Greenpeace activists clashed on Friday with French commercial tuna fishing vessels. Since the advent of large-scale industrial fisheries, the population of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea has plummeted by at least 85 percent.