Tag Archives: food

How to Choose Sustainable Tuna

Greenpeace has just launched its 4th edition of the Australian Canned Tuna Guide.  For those of you out there that love your tuna and the oceans, you really must take a look for yourself, so you can make an informed choice about your tuna.

You can download the above image as an A4 poster to stick on your fridge: Click here (PDF 1.27MB)

I was involved in bringing the first canned tuna guide to the Australian public a couple of years ago. Back then, none of the cans on our shelves were sustainable, with catches of overfished yellowfin tuna, destructive fishing methods and politically poor fishing choices packaged up and sold to us with barely any labeling.   Down the line we’ve seen a complete game change in the canned tuna market, with companies like Fish 4 Ever and Safcol providing sustainable, pole-and-line caught skipjack tuna, and genuinely working towards a sustainable future.

The tuna brands are ranked according to their:

  • sustainability policy
  • fishing method used (Fish Aggregating Devices, or FADs, are a definite no-no because of the unacceptable bycatch levels)
  • species caught (yellowfin and bigeye are overfished)
  • labelling – so that customers can make an informed choice
  • support for marine reserves (ensuring long-term sustainability) and equitable tuna policies (so that reasonable economic benefits are returned to countries who own the rights to certain tuna stocks)
  • guarantee of a supply chain free from illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing (which accounts for up to 46% of fishing activity in the Pacific)

Since the first guide was released, consumer pressure has forced many brands to change their tuna. You can now buy eight different brands of sustainable pole-and-line caught tuna, in most supermarkets.  Safcol for example was the first Australian company to commit to 100% sustainable tuna – an industry-changing move.  They also actively promote sustainable fishing methods and the conservation of overfished species.  Greenseas and Sirena are making a positive change by committing to 100% FAD-free sourcing by 2015.  But several other brands still lag behind, sometimes offering up one sustainable brand whilst making little effort across their range, or in the case of Sole Mare, none at all.

Greenpeace’s current campaign is focusing on John West.  As Australia’s largest seller of canned tuna, John West is having the most damaging impact on marine life through the 10% bycatch rate of its fishing method (FADs and purse seines).  That means they catch the equivalent of about 10 million cans of bycatch every year.

If you would like John West to step up their game and change to sustainable tuna, you can tell them here.

So check out where your favourite brand comes out – and why – in the Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide.

Make an informed choice, and use your consumer power to make a difference.  Choose sustainable tuna next time you shop.

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Ocean-based food security threatened in a high CO2 world

This month, Oceana released a document entitled ‘Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World: A Ranking of Nations’ Vulnerability to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification’.

I urge you to have a read [PDF – 1.06MB] .

The report outlines the seafood security problems that the world will face due to human-induced climate change, and offers a ranking of vulnerability by nation as a result.

Changes in ocean productivity will affect billions of people around the world who rely on seafood for their livelihoods and diet.  Some nations may be better able to cope with these changes than others, but none can escape them.  The report ranks nations based on the seafood security hardships they may experience.  The results are sometimes surprising… And certainly food for thought.

The Two Main Factors Considered

As the pH of the ocean becomes more acidic (due to absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere), coral reef systems and hard-shelled molluscs will be less able to cope.  They need a mineral called aragonite to make their skeleton, which is less available in more acidic waters.  Coral reefs support about a quarter of all marine fish species; people around the world depend on these fish as a stable source of protein.  Shellfish such as oysters, clams and abalone may also be significantly affected, which could impact many jobs, but more importantly some nations rely on them for 50% or more of their protein.

The second issue is that climate change will change ocean temperatures.  This is likely to affect ocean circulation, which will in turn affect nutrient availability, an effect which which will be felt throughout the food chain.  Studies have shown that marine fish and invertebrates tend to shift towards the poles and into deeper waters when temperatures rise.  Using a recent model, the report showed how fisheries catch potential could change around the world as a result of rising ocean temperatures – leading to a loss of up to 40% catch potential in the tropics.  This could be very bad for nations without a strong economy or large industrialised fishing fleets, since they will be unable to follow the shifting resources.

Shifting Fisheries Catch Potential Due to Rising Ocean Temperatures by 2055 Threatens Seafood Security. Adapted from Cheung et al. 2010. Figure from Oceana

Shifting Fisheries Catch Potential Due to Rising Ocean Temperatures by 2055 Threatens Seafood Security. Adapted from Cheung et al. 2010. Figure from Oceana

In order to calculate vulnerability to seafood changes, the report looked at the predicted effects caused by the above changes, and how they would impact each country.  This was combined with how dependent the country is on seafood consumption, i.e. the percentage of fish and seafood consumed per capita compared to other animal protein.  This is also linked to availability and price. For example, fish can be the cheapest and most available source of animal protein in some developing countries, and the highest seafood consumption per capita usually occurs in coastal and island nations serviced by small scale fisheries.  Both these types of countries would be highly vulnerable to changes in fisheries catch potential and distribution.

Adaptive capacity can also be measured via gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.  This shows the extent of economic resources available per person; a higher GDP per capita is assumed to mean that a nation could more easily develop or import more food to compensate in seafood protein losses.  Such nations are less vulnerable to the predicted changes.

Nations with a high population growth rate will have a higher growing demand for protein sources, thereby increasing their vulnerability to protein losses.  And some nations already have problems feeding their populations.  Countries with an undernourished population (>5% of the population undernourished) will be more likely to experience food security issues due to a loss in seafood protein.

The Ranking

The report ranked nations in order of how vulnerable they were to threats from climate change and ocean acidification in terms of seafood security, considering each independently and then combined.

Most Vulnerable Nations to Food Security Threats Due to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification. Source: Oceana

Combined Vulnerability - Top 25 Nations. Source: Oceana


The rankings show that coastal and small island developing nations are vulnerability hotspots for individual and combined effects of climate change on the oceans.  This is especially true for low latitude, tropical countries, where species may undergo migration and coral reef fisheries could be threatened, and island nations that depend on fish for protein.

Nations with rapidly growing populations which provide significant subsidies to their oil and gas industries – such as Iran, Libya, and the UAE – are also ranked at high potential food security risk from loss of seafood catch potential.  They could become more dependent on food imports, and loss of fisheries would have serious impacts for some of the poorest artisanal fishermen in these oil-producing countries.

Shifting from wild-caught seafood to imported, processed foods may also lead to health problems such as diabetes, a problem which has been shown in the Pacific Island nations recently.  Harmful bacteria in shellfish which cause disease in humans can also increase as ocean temperatures rise.

And there are other issues to consider.  Seafood for the diet is one thing, but millions of fishermen also rely on seafood for their livelihoods.  Marine tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry – which could be threatened due to climate change and its impacts on coral reefs and marine life.  Not to mention the aquarium export industry, and the increasing use of the marine environment for aquaculture.  Changes to local marine resources could ‘ripple up’ through the global economy.

So What Can We Do?

As always, Don’t Despair!

This report was a little scary but also good to have – with it we can target places that are particularly vulnerable and help them adapt to the issues caused by future climate change.

Oceana suggests that the best things we can do are to reduce CO2 emissions; end fossil fuel subsidies to help transition to renewable energy; stop overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices; establish marine protected areas; and manage fisheries for change.  This can help us become more resilient to climate change and future impacts.

Personally, I don’t eat seafood at all, thereby reducing my own individual burden on the world’s fisheries.  It’s a personal choice, but I don’t expect everyone to be that drastic.  If you choose sustainable fisheries, and try to make a choice about where your food is coming from, you’ll be making a big difference.  And maybe spare a thought for the billions of people who really do rely on fish for protein.

Together we can work towards a a sustainable future, in a world in which no-one goes hungry.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear about your own opinions on how we can better manage fisheries to cope with the problems caused by climate change.  Is your country one of those listed as particularly vulnerable to the effects?  There are many problems surrounding global fisheries management, climate change is just one of them.  What do you think are the most important issues to consider in order to have a more sustainable food future?

If you’d like to read the report, click here for the PDF link (1.06MB).

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Plastic Oceans, Plastic Diet

I’ve seen, heard and thought a lot about plastic in the oceans recently.

The ABC programme Catalyst showed a 12-minute documentary last week which I was fortunate to catch (if you’re in the right internet zone you can view it here).  In it, the researchers showed how large amounts of small pieces of plastic can be found in almost any animal in the ocean, even down to zooplankton. They showed how CSIRO has been working around the Australian coast, documenting how much plastic is on our beaches and figuring out which currents brought it there in the largest marine debris study ever undertaken.  We were shown how seabird populations on Lord Howe Island especially have been declining rapidly, due to plastic ingestion by chicks (up to 150 pieces of plastic can be found in the birds’ stomachs, most from local sources).

It’s estimated that 3.5 million pieces of new plastic enter the world’s oceans daily.  Over 270 species worldwide are known to be affected by marine debris, including nearly half of all seabird species. But did you know how much it affects you?

Here is what Dr. Jennifer Lavers had to say in the programme:

The plastic itself inherently contains a wide array of chemicals that are used during the manufacturing and processes. When the plastic is put out into the marine environment and it floats around in the ocean for let’s say ten or forty years it really does last forever, it basically acts like a little magnet or a sponge and it takes all the contaminants that are out there in the ocean environment that are really diluted in the ocean water and it concentrates it up, onto the surface.

Plastic itself has up to a thousand times a higher concentration of contaminants on its surface than the surrounding seawater from which it came. And when the animal, whether it’s a turtle or a seabird takes that into their body, those contaminants leach out into the blood stream and is incorporated into the tissues.

There is now a huge range of studies that are coming out almost every month that are showing marine species at the absolute base of the food chain are ingesting these plastics and these contaminants.
Anything really that comes out of the ocean.. you cannot certify that as organic any longer.

It’s estimated fish in the North Pacific now consume up to twenty-four thousand tonnes of plastic a year. As one predator eats another contaminants biomagnify. This means the most vulnerable animal to the effects of toxic plastic contamination is the one at the very top of the food chain: us.

If you eat seafood in any fashion whatsoever the plastic pollution and corresponding contaminant problem has relevance to you.

That certainly hit home for me.

More than a billion people rely on fish as their primary protein source in daily diet.  The average Australian eats around 18kg of seafood every year, and this figure is growing.  We are confronted daily with newly discovered carcinogens and products that aren’t good for you.  But just imagine how much plastic you’ve ingested through eating a seemingly harmless (and also seemingly healthy) seafood diet?

And we all play a role in getting it there.

Another blogger, OceanicExplorer, recently shared this infographic about where plastic in the ocean comes from.  Whilst focussing on North American issues, similar rules apply to Australia. Click the image for a bigger picture.

Courtesy One World One Ocean. Click for larger version.

So what can we do to help?

Reduce your plastic use.  That’s not a particularly helpful thing to say. Pure Organic has a nice poster though:

9 Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic

If we all did just a few of these things, and thought a bit more about the plastic we use, maybe we would have a chance at cleaning up the ocean.  As it is, all plastic that has ever been produced is still here, on this planet… (and that’s a thought for another post, methinks).

I for one don’t want it in my body as well. Do you?

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