The Atlantic Ocean produces around 350,000 tonnes of tuna every year – about 10 percent of the world’s tuna catch. This is mostly made up of skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus). These tuna species are fished mainly in areas of the Eastern Atlantic where large currents converge off the coast of Gabon and where there are upwelling deep waters and nutrients off the coast of Guinea.
Tuna in this fishery is caught using various methods, with the purse seine method used to catch the majority of tuna for the European market. Purse seiners use large nets to encircle and capture whole schools of tuna. The use of sophisticated electronic devices, such as echo sounders, sonar, track plotters and fish aggregation devices (FADs) have helped fishers haul record numbers of tuna in recent years. But while this is a highly efficient fishing practice, there are significant uncertainties about the effect of purse seining on tuna stocks and the surrounding ecosystems.
The International Committee for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) is responsible for managing the tuna fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. While the ICCAT has adopted certain management measures to help limit some negative impacts of tuna fishing, none of the region’s tuna stocks is managed under a formally adopted harvest strategy, which is leading to a decline in tuna populations.
A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for East Atlantic Ocean tuna has been established jointly by the key governments in the region (Ghana and Ivory Coast), major tuna processors, producer organisations and their fishing vessels, with the support of WWF. The goal of the FIP is for these participants to work together to achieve measurable and verifiable improvements in the fishery. These improvements, which are being implemented over a five year period, will allow the fishery to become fully compliant to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard.
The MSC Fisheries Standard reflects international best practice in fisheries management and is based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. To meet this standard, fisheries must be well managed so that fish stocks remain healthy and impacts on the environment are mitigated. Achieving this standard would therefore provide credible verification of the sustainability of the Eastern Atlantic Ocean purse seine tuna fishery.
In June 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the participants and in early December 2017 the action plan for the FIP was agreed. This highlights the major activities, improvement areas and key performance indicators that participants will have to achieve within five years of the FIP being launched.
The plan covers the catches of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna species from industrial purse seine fishing vessels. Actions include: developing robust harvest strategies for tuna; ensuring management measures are in place to maintain target and secondary species above biological limits; and providing a framework to manage the ecosystem impacts associated with purse seine fishing.
The participants of the Eastern Atlantic Ocean Tuna FIP will provide technical, financial and other support to the fishery to improve the sustainability of tuna fishing in the region. To formalise these arrangements a FIP participant agreement was signed on 2 November 2017.
The private companies participating in this FIP include: Thai Union Europe, CFTO, Orthongel, OPTUC (ANABAC), Airone, Saupiquet Concarneau, Panofi Company Ltd, Cosmo Seafoods Co Ltd, SCODI, Atuna CV LDA, Sea Breeze Ventures, FCF, Agnes Park, DH Fisheries and AFKO.
There is also local government involvement from the Ghanaian Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and the Ivorian Ministry of Livestock and Fishery Development, as well as the Ghana Tuna Association (GTA).