Tuna Industry Accused of Wiping Out Marine Life

The innocent-looking canned tuna you buy at the store may have made its way to the supermarket shelf at huge cost to the world’s oceans, according to environmental watchdog group Greenpeace.  Greenpeace, which made a name for itself in decades past partly by campaigning to “save the whales,” is mounting a new effort to save dozens of marine species threatened by the tuna industry. 

It’s a campaign that already has the attention of three leading producers of tuna, which are threatening legal action to suppress a video released by Greenpeace on YouTube.  Watch the video that has the tuna industry up in arms.

According to Greenpeace, which recently launched a new campaign to expose the “dirty secret” of the tuna industry, leading tuna companies are using fishing practices that kill dozens of non-target species.  These species range from sharks to rays to sea turtles, and include some of the most-loved and most threatened large animals in the oceans.  Every year thousands of non-target species are killed and discarded by the tuna industry, as a side effect of unsustainable fishing.

There are several fishing practices that kill non-target species.  These include the use of “fish aggregating devices” and “longlines”—both fishing methods designed to bring in as many tuna and other large marine animals as possible at minimum cost.  Unfortunately, a large percentage of the catch from longlines and aggregating devices consists of species the tuna industry has no use for. 

Longlining is a leading cause of death for sea turtles, which are drawn to baited hooks on fishing lines deep underwater.  After becoming caught on hooks meant for tuna, turtles are unable to return to the surface for air, and drown.  With six of the world’s seven sea turtle species classified as endangered or critically endangered, turtle deaths from longline fishing present a serious conservation concern.

Fish aggregating devices (also known as FADs) can be equally destructive to sea life, including endangered sharks and non-target tuna.  FADs work by attracting large fish to an artificial floating object that serves as a temporary habitat for invertebrates and small fish that predatory fish feed on.  The floats can be remotely controlled by radio, and are later collected by fishing boats—along with all the sea creatures that have started following them.

Part of the problem with FADs is that in addition to adult tuna belonging to species most commonly sought by fishing boats, they also attract juvenile tuna that are killed before they have a chance to reproduce, and endangered tuna species like bigeye and yellowfin tuna.  “If we don’t stop using FADs,” says Greenpeace, “we will run out of yellowfin and bigeye tuna because we kill all of the juveniles.”

Fortunately there are ways to catch tuna that avoid the most destructive side effects of the industry.  Greenpeace recommends that consumers buy tuna (which may be called albacore in supermarkets) that were caught using a pole-and-line or other methods that can single out target tuna species and avoid killing large amounts of non-target marine life.   

Greenpeace has also challenged tuna industry giants Chicken of the Sea, Starkist, and Bumble Bee to stop using unsustainable practices like longlining and FADs.  In a humorous YouTube video that makes fun of the industry’s own advertising campaigns, Greenpeace has urged the three companies to “clean up their act” and abandon unsustainable fishing.

In response, all three targeted companies have demanded that Greenpeace either take down the video or face legal action.  It’s a threat tactic that may actually backfire with the public, as Internet users don’t usually take kindly to corporations deciding what they can or can’t see.  The tuna video has already accumulated over 40,000 views, and Greenpeace has a goal of reaching the 60,000 mark.

Help change the tuna industry by watching the Greenpeace video, and then taking action online!

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/4967557703/sizes/m/in/photostream/

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