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Dolphin-friendly tuna: we’re worrying about the wrong species

I read a good little article this morning from The Conversation website.  I go for canned salmon these days in preference to tuna.  My Very Herby Salmon Patties are a regular, very tasty, quick, easy, fast, and very very healthy dinner.  Canned salmon isn’t ideal either, but it’s within my boundaries for acceptable.  Sadly, tuna has been outside those boundaries for many years now.

Transhipping tuna in Marshall Islands. Quentin Hanich

By Quentin Hanich

Seafood is increasingly marketed as the clean, healthy choice for consumers – full of good oils and proteins and low in fat – with canned tuna a favourite cheap source of healthy protein. But science provides ever-worsening reports on the state of many fisheries, and their effect on marine ecosystems.

As international conservation negotiations flounder, consumers and industry are increasingly relying on eco-labelling to tell which seafood products come from sustainably managed fisheries. But there’s more to tuna than “dolphin-friendly”: what do these labels really tell us?

Labels need to tell the whole story of a fishery

Traditional fisheries management and early eco-labelling schemes only focused on target stocks or iconic species. They did not consider how fishing affected target, associated and dependent species or marine habitats.

But in recent decades, fisheries management has used two key principles: the “precautionary approach” and the “ecosystem based approach”.

Under the precautionary approach, managers have to be more cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate. They can’t use the absence of adequate scientific information to defer conservation and management measures.

Under the ecosystem approach, managers can’t just think about the species being fished. They also have to keep populations of dependent and associated species at levels where they can reproduce, and protect important marine habitats.

You can read the full article at The Conversation  here.  It’s not long, and it’s well worth the read.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Linda June 1, 2013, 7:57 am

    Linda I know you have posted a few times about fish but I find it so hard to get my head around which fish is ok. My son has a sluggish thyroid and I don’t want to medicate him. I found he has so much more energy and seems more ‘switched on’ when he eats at least one meal of fish each week. I tend to buy fresh fish labelled as sustainable but always worry that it is not sustainable at all! I also buy the canned tuna labelled pole caught. We’re pretty aware of eating local, sustainable food but this is one area that I can’t work out. It would be easier to never eat seafood but I feel my son needs it. Any advice?

  • Linda June 1, 2013, 8:53 am

    Hi Linda, it’s such a dilemma isn’t it! It’s one of those issues that’s right at the pointy end when it comes to balancing the permaculture ethics of caring for people and caring for the earth. We normally eat fish in one form or another at least once a week, often two or three times. One of those meals is usually based on squid. The best research I can find is that it’s a good source of omega 3 and a really good source of zinc and selenium – which is one of the key nutrients for thyroid function. Lime and Garlic Calamari is one of the favourites, and lately Mexican Style Seafood Soup has been making it onto the dinner table very regularly. My partner loves fishing, as much as a meditation as anything else, and since he fishes with a rod from the shore, I figure he’s being a good predator and anything he catches is ok. We eat canned salmon, usually made into patties occasionally – not very often but it’s a good stand by. We eat Mussels occasionally. I think mullet is undervalued – fresh mullet just pan fried is one of my favourite fish. Otherwise, I trust the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s advice, and they have a free downloadable app that makes it really easy to check.

  • Fiona July 22, 2013, 11:39 pm

    Great post Linda. It is such a confusing issue and I am grateful for the link you left in your comment. We eat Tilapia which is a pest in the dam in our area and if you catch it you are not allowed to throw it back. I am not a fisher but I swap eggs for fish which means we can eat it as much as we want guilt free as long as I have eggs to swap.

  • Linda July 24, 2013, 9:45 am

    Hi Fiona, Tilapia were one of the fish of choice for very small aquaculture systems in Cuba a decade ago. They breed fast, are extremely robust and resilient, and cost nothing to feed. unfortunately, exactly the characteristics that make them so successful in aquaculture systems also make them a pest in the wild. It’s a common permaculture story – a tricky balancing act to find species that work without needing persticides, herbicides, funghicides, insecticides, antibiotics etc, but at the same time, don’t go feral. Almost a contradiction in terms. I found tilapia a bit muddy in flavour, and quite bony, but they are great smoked, and make wonderful Asian style dishes like laksa.

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