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Questions and answers about: tuna

Can you still eat tuna? And what about the dolphins? We explain what the problems can be when fishing tuna and what consumers should pay attention to.

The main questions about tuna

Is tuna critically endangered?

There is no such thing as tuna - eight different types of tuna are hidden behind the name "tuna" (Thunnus) as well as the real bonito, also called skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), which is not tuna at all, but is often traded as "canned tuna".

Many tuna stocks, including all bonito stocks, currently have healthy stocks. However, some tuna stocks are severely overfished. As a result, members of Mexico's four largest fishing companies, for example, have voluntarily pledged to stop fishing for the Pacific bluefin tuna so that it can recover.

If you want to eat tuna, you should limit your purchase to MSC-certified products. You can currently find white tuna, yellowfin tuna and bonito with the MSC seal in well-stocked German supermarkets.


How is tuna caught?

There are different fishing methods for tuna. How exactly a particular tuna is caught depends on many different factors. Among other things, of the species (there are many different species of tuna) that also has an influence on where the tuna lives, how big it is and how the school behaves. Which methods are used also depends on the fishery, e.g. on its size, on the area in which it fishes, or on which fishing method is traditional.

The following types of gear are often used for tuna fishing:

Tuna fishing methods

Purse seine

Schooling fish such as herring or tuna that live in the free water column are often caught with purse seine.

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Bottom longlines are among the oldest passive fishing gears and can be used on uneven and rough seabed, where other fishing gears are no longer used.

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fishing rod

Hand-held fishing rods, such as those used in tuna fishing, consist of simple rods with fishing lines and hooks.

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What do tuna have to do with dolphins?

Most species of tuna have nothing to do with dolphins. They live separately from each other and the fishery for these types of tuna does not normally have dolphin bycatch.

Only the Yellowfin Tuna in the Mexican East Pacific is associated with dolphins. This means that dolphins and schools of yellowfin tuna usually swim close together in this area. Fishermen in the region have therefore used the presence of dolphins as an indication of the presence of yellowfin tuna for centuries.

The dolphins swim on the surface of the water, the shoal of yellowfin tuna up to 150 meters below. The reasons for this are largely unexplored and unknown, but this schooling behavior can only be observed in adult, older fish of this species, and not in younger specimens or other tuna species.

In the northeastern Pacific, tuna is usually caught using purse seine. With the help of a dinghy, a net is laid out in a ring around a school of fish and then pulled together. Since the dolphins swim above the tuna, the by-catches of dolphins in this type of fishery have been extremely high in the past and the Mexican tuna fishery has been one of the most controversial fisheries from an environmental perspective for decades. In 1989 the dolphin bycatch was 132,000 animals. A rethink in the fishing industry was urgently needed. And this rethinking has taken place: the number of dead dolphins in the tropical Northeast Pacific has been reduced by 99%. The fishery, for example, places divers in every net - in case a dolphin gets into the net and has to be led out.



How are tuna caught with decoy buoys (fish collectors, FADs)?

Lock buoys have established themselves as a common practice, especially in purse seine fishing in tropical waters. Schooling pelagic fish such as tuna - and above all the bonito or skipjack - like to romp around in the vicinity of such objects, which is why the decoy buoys are specifically used for tuna fishing. A distinction is made between freely floating or drifting FADs and those anchored on the sea floor.

For many fisheries operations, NGOs and the Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) responsible for managing the various tuna stocks, developing better FAD management is high on the agenda. RFMOs and sustainable fisheries take various measures to this end. These include limiting the number of FADs used, using biodegradable materials and developing management plans to specifically limit the impact of fishing with fish collectors.

The MSC neither supports nor prohibits the use of decoy buoys. Like any other fishing method, decoy buoys can have different effects in different ecosystems. Basically: A fishery can only be MSC-certified if its fishing method does not irreversibly damage the ecosystem and does not endanger the healthy population of the target species and the species caught.


Which tuna can I eat?

When buying tuna, you should always pay attention to the MSC seal. You can currently find white tuna, yellowfin tuna and skipjack with the MSC seal in well-stocked supermarkets.


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