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Look what the facts dragged in

Posted by Mike Crispino
24 October 2012

For as long as we’ve been around, Greenpeace has been on a worldwide campaign against FADs. So naturally they disagree with the approach we’ve taken, along with our partners at WWF, to help fishers improve their ways rather than abandoning them. It’s fair to debate the tactics but it is difficult to dialogue with someone who makes up their own facts.

In a recent blog post, Look what the Fad dragged in, Greenpeace campaigner Karli Thomas missed the mark in her attempt to use some of ISSF’s very own research in order to make the case against FADs. A few things caught my eye and I thought I should point them out.

She writes that “FAD catches may comprise 15-20% undersized tuna, and the non-tuna bycatch is five to ten times higher withFADs than in free-school fishing.” We’ll start with the undersized tuna. The truth is that all fishing methods – even the most selective like pole & line – catch small tunas. Take a look at this chart on the right. Depending on the species and region, free-school and pole & line fishing can catch just as many small tunas as FAD fishing. Longline fishing is really the only method that can boast a relatively minimal catch of small tunas in every ocean region.

But scientists tell us that it’s not inherently bad to catch small tunas in the first place. Last year ISSF brought a group of fishery assessment experts together and they looked at the world’s commercially fished tuna stocks (excluding bluefin) as well as their relative spawning stock biomass, which is basically the amount of mature fish left to reproduce. What the experts found was that of the stocks where high numbers of small tunas were fished, all had a spawning stock biomass above maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Infact, one stock that experienced a higher level of fishing of mature tuna had a spawning biomass below maximum sustainable yield. The point is, you have to manage the entire stock, small individuals and large ones.

View of a FAD underwater.

Now, as far as bycatch in FAD fisheries being “five to ten times higher with FADs than in free-school fishing,” that statement should be revised. A recently published, peer-reviewed paper found that “Purse seine by-catch ratios (by-catch vs. target species) for sets on floating objects vary according to the oceans: 1.7% in the western Pacific Ocean (0.3% for free-swimming school sets), 2.4% for the eastern Pacific Ocean (0.8% for free-swimming school sets), 3.6% in the Indian Ocean (0.8% for free-swimming school sets) and 8.9% in the Atlantic Ocean (2.8% for free-swimming school sets). In three ocean regions (eastern Pacific, Atlantic and Indian), the catch of non-target species around floating objects is three to four times higher than it is on free-swimming schools. In the western Pacific Ocean, this ratio goes up to six times higher.”

Karli’s biggest mistake – aside from getting our name wrong – was stating that “the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation, ISSF, claims that FADs could reduce the carbon footprint of tuna fishing, but their data doesn’t pan out on that front either: When purse seiners use FADs more, they tend to use more fuel too.” That’s simply untrue. While her blog post uses a graphic from the report in an effort to illustrate her point, the study clearly states that “it is impossible from these data to discern whether the use of FADs is the leading factor in the high FUI of those vessels, as FUI was also positively correlated with vessel size, and we are unable to speculate whether the same vessels fishing without FADs would have a higher or lower FUI.”

Truth is the study was unable to distinguish between the fuel use of purse seine vessels fishing with and without FADs, mainly because purse seine vessels fish both ways during the same trip so the data was mixed. Still, the study concluded that purse seining is the most fuel efficient of all methods.

Greenpeace has an important role to play in holding the world accountable for its use of the earth’s precious natural resources. But its campaigners also have a responsibility to be truthful. This blog could have used some fact-checking.

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