Saving our Tuna


I’ll never look at a tuna sandwich the same way again. A UNDP film project this past year has opened my eyes to the challenges of managing tuna. I never thought about the fact that half of the world’s tuna comes from the West and Central Pacific, and with them, a way of life for so many Pacific Islanders.

I didn’t know, for instance, that the overall catch rate in the past ten years for Pacific tuna has more than doubled. I also didn’t know there are so many kinds of tuna. I thought tuna was tuna; it came in a can in either brine or oil.

I learned that the industry is vast, varied and vital.  While Skipjack tuna are still abundant, the prized Bluefin, found largely in the Atlantic and East Pacific, is already over-fished. The Big-eye and Yellow-fin are considered to be harvested close to their maximum yield.

Fisheries in general account for roughly 80 percent of the exports and five percent of wage paying jobs for half of the 14 Pacific Island countries.

The tuna industry is using new and innovative technologies to increase their ability to catch fish. Various floating “fish aggregating devices” attract fish in larger quantities. In turn, national and international agencies and governments in the Pacific and elsewhere are working together to beef up the technology and other means of monitoring the fish catches.

We all want a viable and sustainable catch, not only for today, but for generations to come. In order to achieve that, we can’t just get better at catching tuna. We also need to be smarter about sustainability.

UNDP, with a host of governments, NGOs and such partners as the Global Environment Facility, the Secretariat of Pacific Community and the Forum Fisheries Agency have supported the management of tuna and other ocean resources in the Pacific for decades. One milestone convention promotes the long-term sustainability of the tuna catch: “Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks”.

The UNDP/Discovery Asia documentary, Saving our Tuna, points to a few of the means that are used to keep the catch in check. The aim of the film, which recently aired on Discovery Channel in Asia, is to raise awareness about the complex issues related to sustainability in our oceans.

I’m not saying, stop eating tuna sandwiches. I now know how important tuna is as an industry and a way of life for so many.  I’m saying, we can all learn more about what sustainability means for our shared ocean resources.

Check out the 5-minute version of Saving our Tuna. It includes interviews with UNDP’s Oceans expert, Andy Hudson. Guidance was provided by UNDP Water and Oceans Technical Advisor, Jose Padilla. It was produced by the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, and filmed by Arrowhead Films:

Saving our Tuna, 5-minute version:

Look for the blue MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) eco-label on sustainable fish and seafood in shops and restaurants.

Here are some useful links on sustainable seafood:

World Wildlife Fund: Sustainable Seafood Guide

National Geographic: How Do We Balance Our Tastes With What's Right for the Oceans?


Ecosystems and biodiversity Blog post

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Asia and the Pacific 
Go to UNDP Global