Here are answers to the top questions we’ve heard. Email us if you have questions you’d like to see answered.
What does sustainability mean to members of the Alliance?
For us, sustainability means that our marine resources, on which many communities around the world depend, will be healthy today and for future generations. As fishers, we are dedicated both to the sustainability of our oceans and to protecting the livelihood of fishers to come. Our members represent generations of fishing families who understand and practice responsible stewardship of our ocean resources. And we stand behind our commitment to sustainability: every single vessel of our member companies has an independent, third-party, on-board observer during each expedition to verify that every catch meets international standards established under the AIDCP and by the IATTC.
How does the Pacific Alliance for Sustainable Tuna ensure that their fleets are operating according to best practices for sustainability?
Our members adhere to international standards set by the predominant scientific, government, and multi-lateral groups working on conservation in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, including the IATTC (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission) and AIDCP (Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program), among other international standards.
In addition to following the scientific guidance of these international commissions, our members invest significantly to train our captains and crews to be the best in the industry. We conduct Skippers Workshops with ISSF, regular trainings for all of our crew, including testing. we are proud of the talent and dedication of our teams and encourage you to hear from our teams in the video section of this website.
Through the process of seeking certification to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard, we are making all of our information public and committing to a Sustainability Action Plan that will be the most rigorous in the industry.
Why is the Pacific Alliance seeking certification to the Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainable fishing standard?
We are committed to protecting the vitality of the Northeastern Tropical Pacific Purse Seine Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna Fishery and to ensuring healthy, thriving, oceans for all to enjoy in the future. That means we believe in continuous operational improvement – updating practice, training, and technology to respond to the best and most recent science. Achieving the MSC standard is part of that process of continuous improvement. Achieving the MSC standard would demonstrate that our fishing practices are not adversely affecting fish stocks, have a minimal impact on the marine ecosystem, and that the fishery is well managed. But MSC certification is only one part of our broader vision for sustainability and our commitment to ensuring healthy oceans into the future.
How is the fishery defined for the MSC certification?
In the Unit of Certification 36 purse seine vessels comprise the fleet entering assessment. The type of tuna that are caught are:
- ‘Tuna-dolphin associated’ sets: vessels search for schools of dolphin pods of dolphins with yellowfin tuna swimming below the dolphins and then encircle a purse seine net around tuna allowing dolphins to swim free over a specially designed net. Dolphins are released by divers that enter the water and hold down the net.
- ‘Free school’ sets: yellowfin and skipjack are spotted and caught in schools.
How significant is the catch from the fishery under assessment relative to the overall IATTC management area?
The total volume caught in the IATTC management area in 2013 was approximately 221,835 MT of yellowfin tuna and 270,055 MT of skipjack tuna for a total of 491,890 MT for both species. Our fishery caught 97,538 metric tons (MT) of yellowfin and 12,393 MT of skipjack, altogether 109,930 MT. In 2013, our members caught 44% of the yellowfin tuna and slightly greater than 4.5% of the skipjack tuna in the IATTC management area.
How does the Pacific Alliance protect sharks, turtles, dolphins and other marine life?
Our goal is to minimize our environmental impact on the entire ecosystem by rigorously adhering to international guidelines, always following science-based practice, and making significant investments in innovations, training, and technology including using gear that meets rigorous standards for marine protection. One of our most important investments is to have an independent scientific observer on each vessel ensuring compliance with our strict sustainability standards as well as international standards established under the AIDCP and by the IATTC.
Our members’ vessels operate and use gear that meets rigorous standards for marine protection and ensure that all of our captains and crew are trained regularly to ensure that our policies that strive for Zero Mortality in marine mammals; Zero Retention of Sharks and Rays; and 100% Live Release are realized.
How and why do yellowfin tuna swim with dolphin species in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO)? Do skipjack tuna do the same?
Tuna and dolphin associate in many oceans – like the Indian Ocean – but it is more common for yellowfin tuna and dolphin species to swim together in the EPO than in most other oceans. While not well understood, evidence suggests it could relate to environmental factors prevalent in the EPO, including water temperatures and a shallow thermocline (where yellowfin tunas swim), which create an opportunity for a stronger association with surface-swimming dolphins. While dolphins and skipjack may be found together, they are not know to associate with dolphins.
How can you protect dolphins while fishing tuna that swim with them?
The Agreement on International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP) has created rigorous guidance for fishing in association with dolphins. The right technologies (including the Medina panel) must be used so that dolphins are not entangled in nets; nets must be aligned so that dolphins can swim over the nets; and captain and crews must ensure that dolphins are not entangled in nets before hauling nets aboard. The Alliance has an additional program to send advanced scuba divers who are specially trained into the fishing nets to ensure they are clear of all dolphins before the nets are hauled aboard.
These practices have been refined and regulated by the (AIDCP) to the point that fishing in association with dolphins results in fewer than 1,000 mortalities per year in comparison to 95,000 dolphin mortalities each year in the tuna industry.
Why do you fish tuna that swim in association with dolphins?
The Mexican industry fishes with a technique – fishing in association with dolphins – which targets the mature tuna that swim in association with dolphin schools. This is an intentional fishing practice to protect juvenile stocks of tuna and to minimize bycatch of other marine resources. When regulated, this technique is known as one of the most biologically selective and environmentally-sustainable commercial fishing techniques, as it protects breeding tuna/tuna stocks (fishing only mature tuna), has minimal bycatch issues, and protects dolphin stocks with strict biologically-established mortality limits to ensure healthy dolphin populations.
To ensure top environmental performance in its fishery, Mexico adheres to the very strict regulation of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and the very rigorous Agreement on International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP), to which the U.S. is also signatory member. The AIDCP regulates all fishing in association with dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETPO), to ensure that dolphins are protected and populations can recover from significant mortalities suffered in the early, unregulated years in the ocean (prior to 1990s). The AIDCP is the most successful dolphin conservation program according to the U.S. government – and is the only dolphin-protection program that requires 100% verification by independent scientific observers on each vessel and every expedition. Mexico has also fully implemented all AIDCP regulations and mandates into its national laws.
By abiding with the AIDCP, the Mexican industry meets all requirements of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act and has received affirmative findings from the Department of Commerce as to such.
What is the current performance on marine mammal protection?
As a result of the AIDCP regulation, over 95% of dolphin-associated sets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETPO) have no dolphin mortality and dolphin mortalities have been reduced to fewer than 1,000 mortalities* per year from all nations fishing in association with dolphins (Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela amongst them) in the ETPO – as compared with over 95,000 cetacean mortalities from the global tuna industry each year from other regional tuna fisheries from around the world. We believe in continuous improvement across our operations and believe that there is still room to improve on dolphin protection, as we strive for zero mortality in our operations.
How does fishing in association with dolphins protect tuna stocks?
Dolphins associate and swim with mature tuna, adult tuna that have reproduced time and again and have already added to the genetic diversity of the ocean and population. Fishing mature tuna that swim with dolphins is the best method for managing tuna stocks because the technique protects juvenile and breeding tuna stocks. For this reason and the fact that fishing in association with dolphins has such a low rate of by-catch compared to other commercial fishing techniques, many fisheries scientists and NGOs agree that fishing in association with dolphins is an ecologically sound, sustainable fishing technique.
What does Zero Retention/100% Live Release program mean?
The industry’s goal is to release all sharks and rays that happen to be swimming with tuna during a set. Our goal is not just to release them but to release them without harm.
Generally, how can customers know that canned tuna products meet sustainability standards?
All of our tuna in Mexico is fished sustainably. In other countries, consumers should look for products that carry the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel http://www.msc.org/. This label shows that the tuna in these products comes from a fishery that has been independently certified to the MSC’s standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery.