Tuna in Trouble: Major Problems for the World’s Tuna Fisheries

Posted on 22 January 2007

The world’s tuna fisheries face a number of urgent, common problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems.
The world’s tuna fisheries face a number of urgent, common problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems:
  • Alarming tuna stock declines
  • Poor conservation and management strategies
  • High levels of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing
  • Significant bycatch of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, small cetaceans, juvenile tuna, and other fish
Under the present system of ocean governance, fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) are the primary mechanism established by governments for managing fisheries on the high seas — the 64% of the oceans lying beyond national jurisdiction, and where most tuna catches are made. In addition to being bound to their convention and mandate —which in the case of the five tuna RFMOs includes a general objective to conserve and sustainably manage tuna stocks — RFMOs are also increasingly recognized as the most appropriate bodies for the implementation of various international laws and agreements relating to sustainable fisheries management. However, as this briefing highlights, the tuna RFMOs have generally failed to meet their own obligations, as well as those set by the international community to prevent overexploitation of tuna, rebuild depleted stocks, or protect the wider ecosystem.

In January 2007, all five tuna RFMOs meet in Kobe, Japan, for the first time ever to discuss necessary improvements to the management of tuna fisheries and the trade in tuna seafood products.

This briefing provides a general background for the Kobe meeting, highlighting the worrying state of the world’s tuna fisheries and outlining three urgent issues faced by RFMOs and requiring immediate action — poor conservation and management of tuna stocks, IUU fishing, and bycatch. Building on WWF’s efforts over recent years to highlight the challenges of managing resources found in the high seas, and incorporating WWF’s experience from actually participating in the tuna RFMOs themselves, the briefing also gives specific examples of the few good but mostly poor tuna fisheries management practices, and provides recommendations for more sustainable tuna fisheries based on already available solutions. While the briefing focuses on problems faced by tuna RFMOs, we recognize that the ultimate problem is their member governments, in which the short-term interests of the fishing industryare well entrenched. These interests are the central driver of decision making within RFMOs, with the detrimental long-term economic costs of overfishing as well as the long-term health of marine ecosystems and the tuna fishing and seafood sector rarely being considered.
Tuna in Trouble briefing cover