The Covid-19 pandemic has a massive impact all around the world, but small-scale fishers working in one-by-one fisheries in developing coastal states have arguably been impacted more than most. 

Already at the margin of global supply chains, one-by-one tuna fisheries felt the impacts of the rise in demand for canned goods, and the overnight collapse of fresh and frozen tuna markets, more acutely than the rest of the industry, which was severely shaken by the onslaught on the pandemic. As we look ahead to our emergence from the lockdowns, isolation, and changing demands, we have an opportunity to rebuild our world better than before. The question is, will we take it?

In an effort to rebuild the industry while prioritising people, nature and the economy, several organisations have decided to collaborate in a new initiative called Reimagine Tuna. The movement rests on five pillars; Biodiversity, Plastic Pollution, Human Rights, Equity, and Harmful Subsidies which all have the opportunity for much needed radical change as we look to rebuild our world. Reimagine Tuna seeks to hold small-scale fisheries and their rights in much greater steed, with adequate consideration during decision-making processes, support in the global markets, and decrease the financial disadvantage due to harmful subsidies – the financial aid that is given to industrial fleets, and unfair catch allocations. 

Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest threats to our food systems, livelihoods, and economies and industrial fishing has been shown to be the greatest driver of biodiversity loss in our oceans for over a century. With this level of fishing, accompanied by little accountability for their at-sea activities, industrial fleets are also the greatest contributors to plastic pollution at sea which entangle, suffocate and poison marine life at huge scales on a daily basis. Furthermore, inequity is currently evident throughout the fishing industry as industrial fleets are favoured in the allocation of resources, catch, and subsidies. Governments subsidise fishing in order to make industrial fishing profitable and to make seafood affordable for consumers. However, an industrial fisher receives 3.5 times more in subsidies than a small-scale fishery (Schuhbauer et al. 2020), which puts small-scale fisheries at an even greater disadvantage against industrial giants. These funds also facilitate fleets spending prolonged periods of time at sea which can facilitate human rights violations and allow slavery to occur at sea somewhat unnoticed. 

Inequity runs throughout our global systems and the seafood industry is no different. So how can we do things better? How can we rebuild our tuna fisheries so that they can help protect and restore threatened and endangered species, habitats and ecological functions, while also safeguarding the livelihoods these fisheries support? The disruptions of the covid-19 pandemic have highlighted the deep-rooted impacts of these inequalities and ReImagine Tuna is a long-running campaign which calls for radical change to level the playing field and create a more equitable, ethical, sustainable seafood industry. 


Read more about the movement in our article, first published in INFOFISH International, Issue 5/2021 (September/October 2021)