FAQ : EUROTHON – Responsible Fishing from the Boat to the Can

How do you ensure that your fishing activities are sustainable?

We own all our fishing vessels, allowing us to impose strict fishing, quality and safety standards on crews. We fish for three species of tropical tuna in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans: skipjack, yellow fin and big eye. Scientists consider the stocks of these three tuna species as healthy. By targeting specific fish species, we are able to reduce unwanted by-catch to the lowest level possible. We strictly respect all legislation, quotas and spatial closures, as and where in place. We also rely on the scientific advice of an international pool of scientists – amongst others working with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). We actively take part in the work of all Regional Fisheries Management organizations (RFMO) of the oceans we fish in. They bring together representatives from the scientists, fishermen, NGOs and governments to collectively decide on appropriate governance measures.

Isn’t it irresponsible to fish for tuna, which seems to be an endangered species?

It is an unfortunately common misconception that all tuna is overfished or close to extinction. While blue fin tuna is indeed under threat in certain regions, the three tuna species we fish for are not. Skipjack, yellow fin and big eye are the three most popular species for the production of canned tuna and according to the scientific advice available these stocks are in good shape.

On what scientific advice are you basing your fishing activities?

We rely on the scientific advice of several scientists in the RFMOs as well as an international pool of scientists working with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to determine the state of the stocks. ISSF stock data are public and can be consulted on the ISSF website. The stocks of these three species in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans are currently considered healthy by the ISSF. Would the ISSF issue a warning for any of the species we target, we would immediately stop targeting these fish. Several RFMOs also close fisheries at certain times of the year: that is normal practice.

What is your position on illegal fishing?

We strongly condemn IUU and support the recent decision by the European Union to step up its combat against illegal fishing. The recent decision to blacklist a number of countries was an important step in the right direction. As for our vessels, we fish according to the quantities agreed upon in the agreements we have with the countries we are active and no more. We strictly respect all legislation, quota agreements and spatial closures.

Under which flag, legislation and rules do your vessels fish?

Our vessels fly European and international flags. We always operate on the basis of strict fishing licenses. These also include bilateral EU sustainable fisheries partnership agreements (SFPAs), negotiated and signed between the European Union and coastal countries. These agreements determine the number of EU vessels allowed in third countries waters as well as the economic compensation provided to coastal countries. The respect of all our agreements is strictly monitored by the EU and the third countries.

How do you ensure that all your vessels comply with all rules and regulations? How does the control system work in practice?

We are committed to full transparency. We pride ourselves of having 100 percent observer coverage on our vessels, all of which are also monitored continuously by Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and Electronic Reporting System (ERS) of EU Member States monitoring centres and Coastal States alike.

Is your fishing in unregulated, international waters a free for all?

Not at all. Our activities in international waters are subject to clear rules and controls and based on scientific advice to make sure the stocks targeted are and remain in a healthy state. We abide by all European control systems requirements as well as Regional Fisheries Management Organisations rules, which are largely inspired by EU regulations. EU regulations are internationally recognized as ranking among the strictest in the world, offering every guarantee of safety and sustainability to the consumers.

Aren’t big and powerful purse seiners more harmful to fish stocks and the environment?

The assumption that small is beautiful and big equals bad is wrong. The main reason why our boats are bigger is that they need to accommodate freezing and storage facilities on board, plus space for the crew. A high number of smaller vessels which flout the rules and overfish can be do huge damage fish stocks and the environment, while the activities of bigger vessels can be perfectly sustainable, if the healthy fish stocks are targeted and appropriate techniques are applied, as is the case with our vessels.

You fish with powerful purse seiners. How does it work?

Purse seine nets have been used for fishing tuna since the late 1950’s but are an old fishing technique used for centuries.

Tuna swim in schools and a purse seine net, is set around the school of tuna. It is a long surface of netting cast vertically into the water. The top of the net floats on the surface, while the bottom edge of the net is open until the fish are caught. To close the net at the bottom, the metal rings, or ringbolts, allow the net to be tightened by the vessel.

Why don’t you fish with pole and line vessels that have a smaller environmental footprint?

We constantly invest in the improvement of our fishing techniques, ensuring that everything from the material used, the boat shape, the engine technology, the fuel tanks or the navigation support technology, contribute to increasing the efficiency of their boats and minimizes their environmental impact. Other fishing techniques use baitfish for example and large quantities of these fish need to be caught before you can start catching tuna. Tuna purse seining was first introduced in the late 1950’s and is one of the most selective fishing gears in the World.

How do you make sure that dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other vulnerable animals are not endangered?

We are working in close cooperation with international scientific institutions to make sure we continuously improve our fishing techniques, to allow as many unwanted animals that may, in spite of our best efforts, end up encircled in our nets to swim out. Our nets are equipped with escape panels, which are large hold in the net that can be opened or closed to release a shark. We have also trained all our crew members in shark and turtle release procedures to make sure that when a shark or a turtle, which, in spite of all precautions taken, ends up in a net, it is immediately released alive in the ocean.

What are FADs and what do they do?

Our crews selectively use floating objects to localize the tuna species we target. These floating objects are called “Fish Aggregating Devices”, often simply referred to as FADs. Floating objects have been used by fishermen for centuries, in various shapes and using different materials. This enables us to capture a sufficient amount of fish to meet consumer demand at a reasonable price, greatly limiting the quantity of fuel used. We are constantly working on further improvements to make our fisheries activities even more selective and sustainable.

Do your activities involve accidental by-catch and discards of unwanted fish and if so, what do you do about it?

We use all fish we fish, freeze them, so that none is lost due to degradation. By targeting specific fish species, we are able to reduce unwanted by-catch to the lowest level possible. The three tuna we are fishing are very nutritious and offer the great advantage that most parts of the fishes can be consumed, leading to very little waste.

Are you targeting juvenile tuna, and if so, why?

There are a lot of discussions on the best way to improve the selectivity of tuna fishing. Our ultimate objective is to make sure that we fish in a way that guarantees there will be enough tuna in our oceans for the coming generations. Our vessels target adult tuna but also catch smaller tuna, known as juvenile tuna, which swim with bigger individuals. We believe that catching a reasonable mix of big and small tuna is a sustainable practice. This is supported by a number of scientists who are of the opinion that our fishing techniques should ensure a balance between the presence of adult and juvenile tuna in our oceans and that this would have a favorable impact on the sustainability of tuna.

Do your companies and vessels benefit from any EU subsidies?

No. Our vessels and activities are privately funded.

Isn’t it wrong that the European taxpayer subsidises commercial activities and overfishing through their structural funds and fisheries agreements with third countries?

First, we do not overfish. Second, we are not fishing for free. When fishing under private agreements we pay market price for clearly defined and controlled fishing rights. And when fishing under EU fisheries partnership agreements, we also pay fair value. The EU agreements usually also contain financial support to help the economic development of those countries, funding infrastructure, training or aid to combat illegal fishing which are not linked to fishing rights. And that is what EU taxpayers are paying for.

How do you take the interests of developing countries into account when fishing in their waters?

For our companies there is “no fish and go” attitude. We invest in every single employee, their families and their communities in Africa, Latin America and beyond. This is an essential part of the sustainability of our business. We invest in the local communities where we fish, contributing substantially to the socio-economic development of local communities. We provide significant levels of employment and are committed to being a responsible employer and local actor.

Can you give concrete examples?

We do not fish for free in African and Latin American countries waters. We pay for licenses which support the local economy. We also actively engage in EU-funded programmes aiming at helping third country coastal states safeguard their EEZ to combat Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

We provide significant local community support, such as ambulances, material and financial support to local schools, sponsoring local sport tournaments, etc.

In African countries, our members provide an estimated 20,000 direct jobs, processing 350,000 tons of tuna per year and providing a living for 300,000 people. The main areas of activity are in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Madagascar, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya. In total, there are about 15 processing sites in Africa.

In Latin America, close to the large fishing zones in the Pacific, we provide around 6,000 direct jobs, while 200,000 people are estimated to be living from this activity. Production in the region reaches 560,000 tons per year. The main areas of our activity are in Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador and Panama. In total, there are more than 30 processing sites in Latin America.

Tuna processing and canning in African and Latin American countries contributes to developing value-added activity in these countries, positively impacting exports which benefit from preferential access to the European market.

How do you guarantee that your product is safe?

We want consumers to be sure that each and every tuna can they purchase is safe. Eurothon members ensure this by taking part in the whole supply chain from the boat to the can, bringing consumers the safest and most sustainable fish possible. We immediately freeze the tuna on board our vessels after the catch. Having proper and spacious freezing capacity on board is essential do to so, preventing histamine contamination which can render the fish improper for human consumption. We land all our catch and immediately transport it with refrigerated trucks to Eurothon processing plants. Each tuna is checked, processed and canned applying all European food and safety regulatory requirements which rank among the strictest in the world.

Can you trace where the canned tuna in the supermarket is coming from? Can the consumer?

Yes, each of the tuna cans the consumer buys can be traced back to its origin. And interested consumers can do so too by using the traceability code on the label of the cans. To find out the origin of the fish they purchased, consumers should go on the website of the European tuna brand they purchased and enter their can code.