08/15/2011 04:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is The Canned Tuna Industry Unsustainable? (VIDEO)

Tuna may be a cheap and tasty snack, but where it comes from is another story.

Greenpeace wants consumers know to know that there's a dark side to the canned tuna industry. This animated video from Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore aims to spread the message that the tuna industry has a “dirty little secret.”

According to the Greenpeace website, the low cost of canned tuna means that the industry has “to cut some pretty significant corners.” These cost-saving measures increase bycatch, which are other sea creatures that are caught accidentally.

Greenpeace explains that one of the most ecologically damaging practices is the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). These are free-floating objects which attract large numbers of tuna, as well as many other species of fish and marine animals.

The FADs often create entire ecosystems around them, which are destroyed when the tuna is harvested. FADs can increase harmful bycatch by “between 500 and 1000 percent when compared to nets set on free-swimming schools.”

A Pew Charitable Trust report on the dangers of FADs found that the greatly increased bycatch often includes sharks, sea turtles and juvenile tuna. [Text continues below video.]


FADs aren't the only unsustainable practice, Greenpeace explains. Longline fishing for albacore is also dangerous to fragile ocean ecosystems. Longlines, which are baited lines that can stretch for miles, also generate significant bycatch.

It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of the total catch from longline albacore fishing is bycatch.

According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, a 2009 study found that longline fishing represents five percent of U.S. Commercial fishing.

A third danger, according to Greenpeace, is unregulated “high seas” fishing. This is fishing which occurs outside of the country's 200 mile wide offshore exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Fishing outside these zones means no limit to how much can be caught, reducing the ability of nearby countries to “manage their tuna stocks sustainably.”

Eight Pacific Island nations joined together and formed the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to protect their tuna resources from foreign fishing industries and to promote sustainability. According to their website, PNA members control a quarter of the world's tuna supply.

Greenpeace suggests several guidelines for purchasing sustainable canned tuna. They recommend purchasing tuna that has been caught by “pole-and-line” and avoiding tuna from companies who fish in the unregulated high seas areas.

A 2011 Pew Charitable Trust report on FAD use suggests that there are thousands of FADs deployed in the Pacific every year.

Major British tuna brands have committed to sustainability and shifted away from using FADs, according to IBTimes. Environmental groups like Greenpeace have also put pressure on Canada's largest tuna company, Clover Leaf, to begin using “only fish harvested in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.”

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual report of overfishing, which is like “a State of the Union for fish.” The Associated Press reported that while “many key populations of fish have shown improvement over the years,” 40 stocks, or 16 percent, of federally-controlled fish populations in the U.S. were being overfished.

Overfishing is considered by many to be a serious problem that is affecting aquatic ecosystems worldwide, which may disrupt food supplies in the future. HuffPost blogger Lee Crockett writes that overfishing is “a big fish story we should take seriously.”

UPDATE 8/18: According to Greenpeace, the organization has been issued cease-and-desist letters from three major tuna companies. An August 17 post states that the Starkist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea tuna companies have all challenged the content of Greenpeace's tuna cartoon.