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What’s happening in PNA tuna?

Picture of the coastline of Eneko island at sunrise - Marshall Islands

James SimpsonBy James Simpson, MSC UK Communications Manager

Last week, the Dutch tuna canner, Anova, wrote an open letter to the PNA tuna fishery expressing its support for the MSC certified component that it hopes to source from and asking “What’s taking so long?” It’s a question we’ve heard a couple of times in the industry and thought a brief explanation of what’s happening might be useful.

PNA tuna, the PNA western Pacific skipjack free-school set purse seine tuna fishery, was MSC certified in December 2012. The important bit in that rather long name is the ‘free-school’ component. Among the boats fishing in the PNA waters, they fish without FADs when they can, but sometimes fish around FADs. Only the free school component is MSC certified. That leads to a challenge for traceability: clearly companies – like Anova – want to source from the MSC certified, free school component but the fish end up on the same boat and there is no way to tell them apart without cast-iron traceability in place. That’s what’s being trialled at the moment and the slow pace of progress is what is frustrating Anova.

MSC’s ‘Tuna guy’, Bill Holden explains: “Before the process could be trialled in the lead up to an audit and Chain of Custody certification, the PNA Office has invested in the training of observers and fishing crews so that free school sets are properly identified from the start.  These observers are also critical to ensure that the MSC certified skipjack remains separated from other skipjack on-board and traceable up to the point where the fish are unloaded.  And if this tuna is transhipped on fish carriers, this also must be kept separate, traceable and verifiable to comply with the CoC certification.”

Why don’t you ban FADs?

Some people will ask: “Why doesn’t the MSC just ban the FAD fishing?” and the answer is nearly as simple as the question: it isn’t within the MSC’s power or remit to define how a fishery fishes. What we can do is help identify the most sustainable options – in this case the free school component – and, through MSC certification recognise and reward that sustainable fishing. By creating an additional benefit to the free school component, MSC can create an additional market demand for the MSC certified, free school tuna that will encourage customers to preference it in their buying. This in turn should encourage the fishing fleets to increase the amount of free school sets vs FAD sets.

So what’s happening in the fishery? The trials that have been underway for the past few months are aimed at finding a way to demonstrate to the auditors that the free school fish will be kept separate from the FAD-caught fish. Until the auditors are convinced, the PNA fishery won’t be able to attain Chain of Custody certification and claim its MSC label for the certified fish. The good news is that the PNA fishery expects to have its traceability system audited and approved soon. With so much demand from the market, that should mean that we don’t have much longer to wait. JS

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