Fight to Change Tuna Industry is a Fight for People & Planet by Oliver Knowles, Nat Geo Voices Blog

Advances in technology and bad government policy has brought the oceans to crisis point as major predator and ancillary species face the wrath of ferocious industrial fishing trawlers with the ability to strip the seas of every living creature in short order. If top-of-the-food chain marine predators like tuna, sharks and whales disappear then ocean ecosystems will be at risk of collapsing and this could be world chaos; starvation, economic dislocation, war and anarchy could easily wipe out billions of people before a solution is found.

Danny Quintana’s Global High Seas Marine Preserve, a non-profit dedicated to saving the oceans, is seeking a ban on industrial and commercial fishing in international waters so that fish stocks will have time to recover. Below is an article about the tuna industry and how the struggle to save the ocean will not be an easy task. 

Fight to Change Tuna Industry is a Fight for People & Planet
Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace Global Tuna Campaign Leader,
published on National Geographic Voices Blog


Earlier this month, Greenpeace put Thai Union Group on notice that we’re out to change the way it does business. Thai Union is the largest canned tuna company in the world, owners of Chicken of the Sea in the U.S., John West in the UK, Sealect in Thailand, Century Tuna in China, Mareblu in Italy, Petit Navire in France, and others throughout the world. We’re demanding that the company end its use of abused and over-exploited human labor and dependency on destructive fishing.

An aerial view of Greenpeace inflatables and two Greenpeace ships, the MY Arctic Sunrise and the MY Rainbow Warrior, during a non-violent direct action against Tunisian fishing vessels. Activists release highly-endangered bluefin tuna from a cage which is being towed by a Tunisian tugboat to a tuna farm. At the farm, the fish are to be fattened and sold to the market. Greenpeace is in the Mediterranean to take action against the bluefin tuna fishing fleets and to promote Marine Reserves.

The tuna industry has consistently failed people around the world on both sustainability and human rights. As it stands, the majority of canned tuna available to consumers is not safe for seafood industry workers or our oceans. Tuna industry giants like Thai Union shoulder much of the blame.

Thai Union and many of the other large tuna companies around the world use fishing methods that result in over fishing and high levels of unintentional bycatch, including sharks, turtles and seabirds. These methods, purse seining with fish aggregating devices (FADs) and long-lining, are often associated with illegal fishing and violations of workers’ rights as well. Investigations continue to connect the global tuna industry to major human rights abuses, and Thai Union has seen its seafood supply chains linked to forced labor and labor abuse in recent New York Times and Associated Press investigations.

Appetite for Destruction: Eating Bluefin Tuna Into Extinction

Sushi has become a staple of nearly every American’s diet—yet most of us have no clue about the economics and environmental impact involved in getting fish from the sea to our plates. From Los Angeles to Japan, host Sasha Issenberg—journalist and author of The Sushi Economy—follows the trail of the threatened Pacific bluefin tuna to find out if our appetite for sushi just might end up devouring this diamond of the sea.

Thai Union is one of a small handful of seafood mega-corporations emptying our oceans of fish. It inflicts huge harm on the ocean environment and on too many of the poorly paid, routinely abused and mistreated fishing crew who do it for them.

Bluefin Tuna, one of the greatest fish in the oceans and one being fished out of existenceAlready yielding revenues of U.S. $3.44 billion, the company has stated publicly that it plans to increase this to $8 billion by 2020, in just 5 years’ time. Its aggressive expansion policy is designed to penetrate and dominate key seafood markets around the world.

A recent paper argued that Thai Union and twelve other huge (but largely unheard of corporations) now have such an impact on the world’s oceans that they should be described as “keystone actors” in the global marine environment.  The paper argued that such keystone actors will be critical in shaping the future direction of seafood production and, as a consequence, the future of marine ecosystems. Put another way, they have to be put right, and fast.

Below the surface of the ocean things are changing dramatically. Overall, populations of tuna have declined, on average, by 60 percent over the last half century. The healthier more abundant skipjack stocks mask the serious decline of the larger, more vulnerable tuna species like Pacific bluefin and Southern bluefin which have declined by 90–95%. Some would describe this as free-fall.

Last Chance For Pacific Tuna Stocks?

If this pace of ecosystem change were taking place on land, governments would now be meeting in high level emergency summits. Hidden beneath the water it’s easier to ignore.

Empty Oceans

greenpeace_arctic_sunrise_will_roseWhen we empty the oceans of fish, we don’t just lose a source of food. The more pressing point is this— empty oceans are dead oceans. And when they die, they stop providing all of the things we depend on them for—oxygen production, carbon storage, food, and the mechanisms that help regulate and stabilize our climate.

This month, the journal Nature Climate Change published a paper suggesting that the killing of ocean predators like sharks and tuna is increasing the speed of climate change and the ocean’s ability to mitigate against it. It points to a ‘trophic cascade’ as the loss of so many top predators allows for increased numbers of sea turtles, crabs, stingrays and starfish. These herbivores are rapidly eating their way through the world’s seagrass beds and digging up the ocean floor, damaging one of the world’s most important systems for storing and cycling carbon.

Out of Control

Yellow Fin Tuna, one of the many tuna species on the edge of extinction Put simply, global tuna fisheries are out of control. Poorly managed, with almost non-existent enforcement on the oceans, a vast range of complex and highly interwoven environmental, social and economic problems have been allowed to flourish while shareholders have sat back and watched the money roll in.

Human trafficking, routine abuse and even murder on board poorly regulated vessels. Fishing practices that are wasteful and destructive. Far reaching impacts on the future ability of our oceans to support life on earth. The injustice of food resources taken from poor parts of the world and sold for profits in the world’s wealthy markets while local communities go hungry. These are not fringe problems.


It doesn’t have to be this way. Already pressure from individuals has encouraged many of the world’s leading brands and retailers to make far reaching changes to their tuna and seafood supply chains that effectively rule out destructive fishing and labor abuse.

cover-of-the-book-greenpeaceGreenpeace’s campaign to change Thai Union is not just about saving tuna. It is not simply a campaign to protect marine biodiversity, vitally important as these things are. Hidden for too long in the out of control behaviors of these global seafood mega-corporations are the costs to us all as people on a fragile planet.

We need a stronger and wider oceans movement of people standing up to these mega-corporations if we’re to successfully challenge these keystone actors, these ocean seafood majors, in the way that people have done to big oil like Shell and its pursuit of Arctic drilling. Social and community activists, consumers, fishermen’s associations, trade unions and labor rights campaigners, environmentalists and human rights activists must unite to protect the largest and most important ecosystem on earth.

shark-finningNo longer just about tuna, or any single species, we need a global movement to wrest back control of the oceans on which we are all dependent and reshape the way we use them in the interests of all. That starts with changing Thai Union.

Opinions expressed in blogs are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Bloggers and commentators are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules.

More links about Bluefin Tuna and Tuna Information

The Tuna Research and Conservation Center is a collaboration between Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The mission of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC) is to advance the knowledge and understanding of tunas and other highly migratory marine fishes through research, education, and conservation.

blue-fin-tuna-trccBluefin tuna are monumental in size, speed, power, value, and charisma. They are among the largest fish on earth and make trans-oceanic migrations at speeds to rival the fastest racehorses. They dive to abyssal depths of nearly a mile and ply waters from the equator to frigid polar seas. Amazingly, they have the capacity to maintain a warm, stable body temperature throughout their wide thermal niche like a mammal or bird. They have captivated humans for millennia; images of bluefin once graced the same coins as Hercules

The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) is an intergovernmental organisation responsible for the management of southern bluefin tuna throughout its distribution. The CCSBT’s objective is to ensure, through appropriate management, the conservation and optimum utilization of southern bluefin tuna. Members of the Extended Commission comprise: Australia, the Fishing Entity of Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Cooperating Non-Members comprise: the Philippines, South Africa and the European Union

The Australian Marine Conservation Society: – Fact sheets about Southern Bluefin Tuna. How old do bluefin tuna get?  How long can they grow?  How heavy are bluefin tuna?  When do they breed?

West Coast Tuna Fishing History: The Rise & Fall of the Tuna Industry in San Diego USA by Arnold Fernandes: The Tuna Industry in San Diego was started by the Chinese and Japanese in the early 1890s and then was dominated by the Portuguese and Italians in the early 1920’s and up until the late 1980’s. Many of the San Diego Fishermen started out on the East Coast and ended up in San Diego, California to escape the ruthless storms and bitter cold of the North Atlantic Ocean. My father came to the East Coast from Portugal and started out as a doryman on the Gloucester Schooners fishing off of the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic…

San Diego Tuna Boats: Hi, my name is Jimmy, I’m second generation Portuguese on my Dad’s side and first generation on my Mom’s. I’ve always had a passion for Tuna Boats and their colorful history and have, over the years, amassed a large library of photos and many stories to go with them. In the hopes of keeping some of this history alive……..

Commonwealth Fisheries Association: The Commonwealth Fisheries Association is committed to ensuring the commercial fishing industry is recognised for its contribution to Australia’s economy, society and environment. CFA achieves this by promoting and advocating the value of the industry and the healthy seafood it provides to the community. Commonwealth wild harvest fisheries are among the best managed and environmentally sustainable fisheries in the world. Our members are committed to managing fisheries for Australia’s food security, community well-being and healthy marine eco-systems.