Two new reports reveal an opaque canned tuna industry that is three times more carbon-intensive than selective fishing, and creates thirty times fewer jobs

In two new reports, BLOOM reveals groundbreaking aspects of the European tuna industry, mostly in the Indian Ocean: an opaque, carbon-intensive system created by and for the fishing industry and supermarkets around the tax haven of the Seychelles.

The tuna production chain is subject to obscure and misleading practices, both in terms of its carbon impact and the traceability of this chain, representing total opacity, from the capture of the tuna to its marketing on European supermarket shelves.

In two reports published today, ‘From Heaven to Hell’ and ‘Tuna’s Black Box’, BLOOM reveals unexplored aspects of the tropical canned tuna industry, which benefits from unjustified customs privileges and the complicity of the authorities, both locally in the Seychelles, as well in Brussels, Paris and Madrid.

Tuna is France’s favorite fish. It is the world’s most lucrative fishing industry, worth over 40 billion dollars a year. The European Union is the undisputed leader: 39 of the world’s 50 largest tuna vessels are owned by European companies, including the eight largest vessels. Around 20% of the catches made by all EU fishing fleets are made outside EU waters, partly under “sustainable fisheries partnership agreements” with third countries (normally coastal countries on the African continent), thereby intensifying fishing pressure on species crucial to the food and economic security of local populations.

The mirage of sustainable fishing: a comparative analysis of the socio-economic and ecological footprint of European industrial fishing and Maldivian coastal fishing for tropical tuna

The first report, entitled ‘From Heaven to Hell’, demonstrates an alarming reality in stark contrast to the narrative presented by the tropical tuna fishing industry, who claims that the fishing method they use (the ‘purse seine’ consisting of a net deployed in open water and closed over the schools of fish like a purse) has the most limited carbon footprint of all tuna fisheries. Yet, when this method is compared with pole-and-line fishing as practiced in the Maldives, a method that is infinitely more selective and respectful of marine ecosystems, it becomes clear that seine fishing is three times more polluting, and has a disproportionate impact on marine biodiversity, due in particular to the extensive use of drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs), high-tech floating rafts deployed by the industry to attract schools of tuna. The socio-economic impact of seine fishing is also deplorable, generating 30 times fewer jobs, whilst its profitability relies solely on a wide range of EU subsidies and tax breaks. It is easy to understand why industrial players congratulate themselves on the basis of comparisons with the worst fishing methods used to catch tuna, rather than the most responsible. This is a type of fallacious reasoning known as the ‘false dilemma’, which consists of gaining acceptance for a harmful practice by comparing it with an even more harmful one, without presenting the full range of possibilities. Our analysis ‘From Heaven to Hell’ definitively overturns the lies knowingly planted by industrialists in the public arena.

“Contrary to industry claims, purse seine fishing is anything but sustainable. By continuing to subsidize this destructive fishing method for the benefit of a minority, the European Union is neglecting the urgent need to preserve the climate, biodiversity and marine animals.”  
Augustin Lafond, BLOOM researcher and author of the report.

See the full report ‘From Heaven to Hell’.

‘Tuna’s Black Box’: on the trail of an opaque and untraceable global market

This second report tackles the complexity and opacity of the tuna trade, looking beyond the canned tuna marketing that saturates our supermarket shelves to discover the unacceptable systems devised by and for industrial fishing and supermarkets. It reveals a system where fraud and illegal fishing are hidden behind the commercial channels of the tuna industry, particularly in the Seychelles archipelago. This notorious tax haven has become the nerve center of the EU’s tropical tuna fishery, with a large part of its fleet based there full-time, supplying the world’s second largest tuna canning factory almost exclusively (the IOT factory in Victoria, now owned by Thai giant Thai Union). In return, this plant supplies a large part of the European market, thanks particularly an agreement setting customs duties at 0%.

The report highlights that, despite substantial public funding for European vessels that dominate tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean, no traceability is required for fishing vessels, from catch to export. As a result, a staggering volume of fish — the real figure of which is unknown to anyone other than the industry — disappears down a statistical black hole and becomes the subject of uncontrolled trafficking. Behind every can of tuna, therefore, lies an abyss of regulatory circumvention, illegal fishing, overfishing, fraud and destructive practices, both for the ocean and for human beings.

A closer look at the European tuna industry, which has broken free from common rules and customs duties in particular, provides for astonishing reading. In the first quarter of the twenty-first century, at a time when the ocean is on its last legs, one of the world’s largest fisheries can still operate on such opaque terms and yet be allowed to reach our markets.

“The dramatic tuna situation in the Indian Ocean is a direct consequence of the irresponsibility of European shipowners. The tuna trade there is a real black hole, leaving the door open to underreporting that endangers not only tuna populations, but also the coastal economies and artisanal fishers who depend on this activity.” 
Théophile Froment, BLOOM researcher and author of the report.

See the full report ‘Tuna’s Black Box’.

BLOOM calls on European authorities and retailers to take responsibility for reforming fishing and trading practices, abolishing the use of FADs (see the 7th of our 15 recommendations to save the ocean, the climate and jobs in more detailand subsidies that encourage destructive fishing techniques, and establishing a rigorous regulatory framework for the traceability and sustainability of tuna stocks.

See our 15 points to save the ocean, the climate and livelihoods.

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