We’re Catching More Tuna Than Ever, What This Means for Your Poké Bowls

Tuna is a popular fish, from lunchtime sandwiches to trendy poké bowls, Americans are eating a lot more seafood and the mighty tuna may be at risk. A new study, published in Fisheries Research has found that the amount of tuna being fished in the world’s oceans has increased by a staggering 1000% over the past 6 decades–a rate that scientists are calling unsustainable. Take a look at where tuna fishing has exploded.

As NPR reported, the study, which looked only at larger industrial catches, says we’re pulling nearly 6 million metric tons of tuna from the oceans each year.

  • The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s data — which include artisanal fisheries as well as industrial catches — estimate that the overall annual harvest is closer to 7.4 million metric tons of tuna.

Other Surprising Results: 

  • The historical decrease in southern bluefin tuna populations: in the 1960s, southern bluefin tuna from the Indian Ocean accounted for 36% of tuna catches there. Today, it has fallen to less than 1% of the catch.
  • Industrial fishing is taking more tuna and much farther from shore. Industrial tuna fishing now covers somewhere between 55% and 90% of the global oceans, fueled in part by extensive government subsidies.
  • There’s a huge amount of bycatch in tuna fishing. The study estimates that just under 6 million metric tons of shark were discarded as bycatch between 1950 and 2016 in the Pacific Ocean alone.

Better Data, Better Policy: The authors of the study noted that their findings “suggest that current public reporting efforts are insufficient to fully and transparently document the global historical extent of fisheries for tuna and other large pelagic fishes.” They made clear that better harmonization of tuna catch data between nations would paint a fuller picture of global tuna fisheries and would help in their management.

Why This Matters: While demand for tuna has slightly decreased since its peak in 2014, these fisheries can be highly profitable due in part to subsidies that offset their high operational costs. While there are currently five Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) responsible for ensuring the long-term sustainability of tuna stocks, overfishing is still a huge issue. Study author Angie Coulter said that while no one person can save tuna, “Being vocal and pushing governments to release more data is a start…We can make better decisions if we have the data to work with...And if you want to make a change, find an NGO that’s doing great work that you align with and contribute.”


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