Posted by Victor R. Restrepo, Laurent Dagorn and William W. Fox
21 November 2011
A recent video posted by Greenpeace has introduced some disturbing images into the dialogue on tuna sustainability. In an attempt to offer a compelling argument for the need for improvements in purse seine FAD fisheries, the campaigners have produced a series of loosely strung together statements and images that paint a misleading picture.
First, most species of bycatch shown in this video (manta rays, whale sharks and whales) are generally not associated with FAD fishing. Manta rays are caught on rare occasions when associated with schools of tuna and are usually released by the crew. In some regions of the ocean, fishermen set their nets on tuna associated with whales and whale sharks. Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) are developing and disseminating best practices for handling these species, while some governments forbid setting fishing around on cetaceans.
Sea turtles are sensitive species and several populations need protection. However, purse seine vessels that fish around FADs encounter very few turtles. Those few animals that are caught are usually released alive, with little to no harm done. The turtle in this video appeared very much alive.
Other species of bycatch shown in the video, such as billfishes, are caught as part of legitimate fishing operations. The stocks are monitored, assessed and managed, and fishers are required to report their catch. Often, these species are brought into port and sold in local markets, providing protein to local diets.
The brief video also brings up the fishing of juvenile, or small, tunas. All fisheries catch some amount of juveniles, whether FAD, free-swimming school, pole & line or trolling. Fishing juvenile tropical tunas does not necessarily lead to overfishing. The fact is that fish populations can be overfished by taking too many juveniles, or by taking too many adults, or by taking too many of both. The point is that all components of fishing on a stock need to be monitored and considered in the stock assessments, and all fisheries need to be managed, whether they target small, medium or large fish.
Unfortunately, bad actors are found in every industry and images capturing their disregard for good conservation leave an unsettling impression. Any evidence of illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing methods being used by any vessel should be handed over to the relevant governing body immediately. Those that don’t play by the rules have no place in a well-managed fishery.
Improvements are certainly needed in FAD fisheries, as in many fisheries. This video is further proof that improvements are needed in all types of tuna fisheries.
 Chair, ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee
 Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
 Vice-President for Fisheries, WWF-US