Fisherman with tuna catch, Philippines.
© WWF / Jürgen Freund
Tuna species are amongst the most commercially valuable fish on earth. Critically, many tuna stocks are fully exploited or overfished.
WWF works to transform the global tuna market and to improve the way tuna fisheries are managed and governed by focusing on influencing Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), and prioritizing seven tuna populations that are most vulnerable to overfishing: the Atlantic, Southern and Pacific bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin, Albacore and Skipjack tuna.

Find out more about tuna species and why they are a priority for WWF.

raw tuna pieces selected to be sold as sushi and sashimi
© Michel Gunter WWF

The tuna market

WWF´s seven tuna priority species are amongst the most commercially wanted fish species on the planet.
Tuna are fished in over 70 countries worldwide and marketed in fresh, frozen or canned form. Tuna were once a low value substitute for other fish such as salmon and sardines. But since the 1960s, this situation has drastically changed. World tuna catches have been increasing constantly and rapidly with world canned (processed) tuna incrementing from 200,000 tonnes in the 1970s to more then 1 million tonnes only 10 years ago.

New gear technologies such as purse seine nets, a predominant fishing gear, are responsible for 70 percent of the world tuna catches with more than 4 million tonnes catches annually. The Western and Central Pacific Ocean supports the largest tuna fishery of the world. More than 2.3 million tonnes of tuna, or 53 percent of the world production were caught there over the last years (FAO, 2010).  

Fresh, frozen and canned tuna 

Consumption of fresh and frozen tuna remains important and has even increased, especially in North America.

In particular Bigeye, Yellowfin and Bluefin tuna are very popular with sushi fans. Until the late 1990s, the sushi market was largely dominated by Japan and the majority of consumption still occurs there. However, due to the globalization of our food culture and healthy food preference, fresh tuna in sushi restaurants and supermarkets have expanded worldwide, especially to the U.S. and the EU.

Market facts

  •  The USA alone imported 314.863 tons of tuna valued 1.304 million USD in 2010
  • The EU has exceeded the USA in canned tuna consumption over the last 20 years (FAO, 2010)
  • Canned tuna in Spain exceeded 67% of the total production volume of prepared, canned and semi-preserved seafood in 2010 (source: atuna.com).
Arm holding tuna fish (Thunnus) used for bait in great white shark diving cage, Guadalupe Island, ... / ©: naturepl.com/Mark Carwardine / WWF
Arm holding tuna fish (Thunnus) used for bait in great white shark diving cage, Guadalupe Island, Mexico (North Pacific)
© naturepl.com/Mark Carwardine / WWF

What is the problem with tuna?

Going, going, gone ...
Skipjack tuna, the main supply of the canned market, are in general heatlhy due to its resilient biology, although the lack of effective management and an increasing number of vessels catching this species means that the status of the Skipjack tuna stock can easily slip into a bad state. 

Unfortunately, Albacore, Yellowfin and Bigeye are further down the slippery slope of depletion if adequate management measures are not rapidly put in place. for example, Yellowfin and Albacore species are all currently being overfished in the Indian ocean. 

Whilst for Bluefin tuna, overfishing has almost led to its extinction.

Because of their high market value, tuna are amongst the  "most wanted" fish for those fishing illegally.

One of the biggest problems of tuna overfishing is ineffective management.

Despite the existence of numerous regional fisheries management organizations (RFMO´s) as mandated by the UN Fishing Agreements, none of them regulates high seas tuna fisheries in a sustainable way.  In addition, too many boats chasing too few fish affects all RFMO´s managed tuna fisheries, resulting in the “race to fish” behaviour, undermining efforts to improve management and driving excessive fishing effort.

Find out more about WWF´s involvement in RFMO´s

If overfishing of tuna, particularly the Atlantic bluefin tuna, continues, the world fisheries will ... / ©: WWF
If overfishing of tuna, particularly the Atlantic bluefin tuna, continues, the world fisheries will be faced with an ecological disaster.

Pacific longline fisheries

 / ©: Cat HOLLOWAY
Silky shark caught by the fin on an illegal longline hook.
Wherever there is tuna fishing, there is bycatch
There is a lot of bycatch in tuna fisheries. In the Pacific Ocean for instance, millions of baited hooks are set each year on longlines in order to catch tuna and other fish like swordfish and mahi mahi. However,  sharks, marine turtles, billfish, seabirds, dolphins, juvenile fish and other fish species also get hooked.

The bycatch problem is perhaps most acute for marine turtles, especially the critically endangered Pacific leatherback turtles. 

What is WWF doing?

Engaging with partners
WWF works with other NGO´s as well as the fishing, processing and retailing sector to transform tuna fishing into a sustainable business. We also advocate with governments and regional fisheries organisations (RFMOs) for better governance and more efficient tuna management, which includes stricter legal measures and management plans to help recover almost depleted stocks such as the bluefin tuna.  

WWF´s approach to ensure a sustainable future for tuna include, amongst others:

In 2009, WWF - together with eight of the largest canned tuna processors in the world, scientists and other NGO´s - created the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF).  The ISSF´s goal is to undertake research and initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting a healthy marine ecosystem. Today, 21 tuna worldwide processing companies are participating in the ISSF. Since its establishment the ISSF has made some significant progress towards undertaking science-based tuna initiatives and reducing bycatch. 

WWF is represented in the ISSF via its Board of Directors and actively participates in specific committees.

Find out more about what WWF is doing to make fisheries sustainable. 

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