Pole-and-line fisheries need 25,000 tonnes of baitfish to catch tuna each year, according to a new International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) report released today. The figure is the first global estimate of baitfish – small fish released into the sea to attract tuna schools within range of a vessel’s fishing gear – used in tuna caught with the pole-and-line method.
The report, Ensuring Sustainability of Livebait Fish, identifies several environmental and social issues associated with fishing for this bait, but in particular the use of juveniles and the complex interactions between live baitfish fisheries and local communities and tourism industries.
The study calls for more research into these impacts. It also argues that improving management in bait fisheries through the introduction of management plans and stock assessments could resolve most of these issues and ensure that pole-and-line remains the most responsible and sustainable way to fish for tuna.
“Pole-and-line fishing is one of the most environmentally and socially desirable methods of catching tuna, but like any method, it isn’t perfect,” said lead author Steve Rocliffe, of the University of York’s Environment Department. “As demand for responsibly sourced tuna grows, it’s vital to ensure that the bait fisheries on which pole-and-line depends are well-managed and regularly assessed.”
“Sustainable live bait fisheries are in everyone’s interests” said Andrew Bassford, co-founder of the IPNLF. “As a priority, we’re developing best practise guidelines for baitfish management plans and providing skill sharing, training and capacity building to improve community and coastal states’ ability to manage baitfish fisheries on a long-term sustainable and equitable basis.”
The not-for-profit IPNLF was founded to help pole-and-line fisheries increase the market share of their product. In an industry dominated by heavy industrial fishing, many pole-and-line fishers have seen their local resources diminish and their livelihoods put under immense pressure in recent years.
IPNLF believes these fisheries can be rehabilitated back to health and entire fishing communities strengthened by increasing the market potential of their tuna caught using the traditional pole-and-line method. The Foundation’s view is that this requires minor capital investment and would provide much-needed employment opportunities as pole-and-line fishing is more labour-intensive than large-scale industrial fishing.
The Foundation expects that the demand for pole-and-line tuna will continue to grow and will mainly come from the UK, The Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Nordic countries and increasingly Australia, New Zealand, Japan and North America, where retailers are progressively switching their seafood procurement to more sustainable alternatives.