The Azores are the most isolated islands in the North Atlantic. The Portuguese archipelago consists of nine beautiful islands, many of which are home to local pole-and-line tuna vessels and tuna canneries.
The pole-and-line fishery here primarily targets skipjack and bigeye tuna using cane poles and barbless hooks.
The tuna fishery (which catches an average of 6000 tonnes/year) is likely the most well monitored pole-and-line fishery in the world. Between 50% and 100% of the large boats (>20m) carry scientific observers. Here I am in Faial with Miguel Machete - the director of the Azores Observer Program (POPA – Programa de Observação para as Pescas dos Açores).
The research of the POPA observer scientists supports the transparency of this unique fishery, with data on the location and mass of the baitfish and tuna catch publically accessible.
The local people are proud of the abundance of marine life in the waters of the Azores, including many species of whales and dolphins. Studies show that the pole-and-line fishery does not interfere with cetacean populations.
When boats land tuna in the Azores, they always go to specific government-operated landing locations to ensure sound traceability. Tuna that enters the fresh-fish market go through an automated Dutch-style auction to deliver the best price possible to the fishermen. There are 11 such auction sites in the Azores.
Skipjack catches go to local canneries which provide employment for a significant chunk of the population in the Azores. On San Jorge island, for instance, the local tuna cannery is the largest employer on the island.
Many of the tuna products coming out of the Azores are high-quality hand-trimmed fillets - and some products are even individually hand wrapped!
One of IPNLF’s oldest Members, FiSH 4 EVER, has been sourcing tuna from the Azores for many years. FiSH 4 EVER have one of the most comprehensive sustainability policies in the world, and their work goes above and beyond ensuring that their seafood is sourced responsibly.
Overall, it was a wonderful visit. I learned that the pole-and-line fishery in the Azores is a critical part of the local culture and economy. Local regulators have done a great job to ensure the fishery is fully traceable, and the high rate of observer coverage is unprecedented. Obrigado (Thank you) to my new friends, and we are looking forward to working more closely with this fishery in the years ahead.