PEW Trust reports that worldwide tuna stocks are under severe fishing pressure

A PEW Trust Report, 2nd May 2016, which researches and reviews the condition of tuna species and stocks worldwide, and their economic value as a global fishery, reports:

  • The reality is that fisheries management decisions continue to be based predominantly on the short-term economic bottom line — the amount of value gained or lost by fishing on any given day. That must change.
  • Fishery managers should enact policies that at a minimum restore depleted stocks to healthy levels, which should include setting science-based catch limits and developing systems of pre-agreed management actions that would be triggered when stocks fall below certain levels.
  • With a conservative annual value over $40 billion, tuna fisheries represent a significant component of the global economy. Improved management of these fisheries and conservation of tuna stocks are critical to sustaining the health and well-being of marine ecosystems, as well as the industries and coastal peoples who rely on the life in these waters for income and food.

Taken together, the seven most commercially important tuna species are among the most economically valuable fishes on the planet.

Collectively, skipjack, albacore, bigeye, yellowfin, Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin, and southern bluefin tuna inhabit all of the tropical and temperate waters of the Earth’s oceans—and support artisanal and industrial fishing wherever they exist.

Canned and other shelf-stable tuna products provide plentiful and inexpensive protein to markets around the world, while smaller amounts of high-quality tuna steaks and sashimi make their way to affluent markets in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Ecologically, tuna are a vital part of marine systems. Their importance in food websfood web The totality of interacting food chains in an ecological community as predators and prey is difficult to monetize; however, these iconic species are known to play a fundamental role in open ocean ecosystems. That makes maintaining their health critically important to human communities that rely on them for food and economic well-being, particularly at a time of global ocean change.

This report, in which The Pew Charitable Trusts presents the first effort to estimate the full global value of the primary commercial fisheries targeting these seven tuna species and the value of the resulting products, summarises and discusses the findings of a much more detailed analysis that Pew commissioned from Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd., an independent fisheries and aquaculture consultancy based in the United Kingdom.

Estimating the economic contribution of these fisheries informs and highlights the urgency of ensuring that the systems that govern the global ocean are robust and effective. Action is needed to guarantee a healthy and stable future for these species, as well as for the communities and businesses that depend on them.

The findings are based on information gathered on tuna fisheries and markets for 2012 and 2014.

Based on the analysis of available data, commercial fishing vessels in 2012 landed about 4.6 million metric tons of tuna worldwide.

The estimated dock value, or amount paid to fishermen, was US$12.2 billion.

The estimated end value of this tuna — the total amount paid by the final consumer — was at least $33.3 billion.

The estimate rose significantly when the entire price of a can of tuna, beyond the value of the fish alone, was used. In that case, the end value in 2012 was estimated to be $41.6 billion.

In 2014, the volume of landed tuna rose to 4.99 million metric tons with an estimated dock value of $9.8 billion. The estimated end value remained similar to that in 2012 due to falling fish prices, and was $32.9 billion, or $42.2 billion when including the full canned product price.

While the overall numbers do not reflect the total worth of the seven species, they provide a useful estimate of the contribution made by commercial tuna fisheries to the global economy. A total value of tuna, incorporating sport fishing and in-the-water ecosystem benefits of living tunas, among other things, would be much higher. Therefore, these numbers should be considered conservative.

The methodology used to calculate these global estimates allows for values to be broken down by region, species, and fishing gear.

For example, the Pacific Ocean is home to the world’s largest tuna fishing grounds, making this region the largest contributor to total global sales values. According to the analysis, the end value of Pacific tuna when including the full canned tuna product price surpassed $22.7 billion in 2014.

When looking at individual species, skipjack tuna — most often found in cans—generates the highest estimated amount of revenue because of the volume caught each year.

When analysing individual fish, the three bluefin species — Pacific, southern, and Atlantic — are by far the most highly prized; a single bluefin typically fetches more than a ton of skipjack.

Several populations of the most commercially important tunas, particularly the bluefin species, have been fished to levels that scientists and managers consider too low. The values reported here help make a convincing economic case for improving the management of the world’s tuna fisheries.

Stocks of Pacific bluefin, southern bluefin, and Atlantic bluefin, Atlantic and Pacific bigeye, and Indian Ocean yellowfin are all currently overfished. That means they have been fished down to a population size that no longer supports the maximum level of sustainable fishing and threatens their role in marine ecosystems.

As a result, these stocks deliver less overall value to global tuna fisheries than they could if they were managed differently. As with all fisheries, maximising the value of a species requires management that recognises the productivity of healthy populations and minimises the risk that the fishery will end up in an overfished state.

Given the increasing number of tuna fisheries classified as overfished, improved management of these populations would likely, in time, improve catch rates and financial returns.

Source: The PEW Charitable Trust, 2nd May 2016. For the full details of this Report, see

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