As I saw over on and TreeHugger, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in South Africa and SASSI, the South African Sustainable Seafood Foundation, (website for joint project) have unleashed a brilliant campaign showcasing the realities of the tuna fishing industry and why people should only eat fish that are caught in environmentally-friendly ways instead of those that encourage bycatch.
Long-line fishing is the method most commonly used to catch tuna (as well as marlin and swordfish). Varying in length by where the boat is fishing, long-lines are a series of short lines with baited hooks, attached at regular intervals to a longer main line–which can in total range from a mere 25 hooks in short strands to much longer strands that stretch for miles and can carry several thousand hooks.
Long-lines catch many endangered sharks, turtles, marine mammals and seabirds. Bycatch can be reduced in a variety of ways including circle hooks to prevent catching turtles, and setting deeper lines to reduce catches of turtles, sharks and marine mammals. Techniques such as setting lines quickly and at a greater depth, using bird scarers, and setting at night can reduce the number of seabirds that get caught on hooks and drown when diving for bait.
WWF has been combating bycatch for years, behold this ad from 2007:
Moral of the story: commercial fishing gear isn’t as selective as we’d like it to be, so the cost of your tuna comes at a much bigger price as several other endangered sea animals are also captured in the process of catching the tuna.
While I advocate a vegetarian diet that’s fish-free, I will say that if you do eat fish then be sensible about it. Don’t eat species that ride on extinction, and as this advertisement highlights, take your head from beneath the sand and learn how your favorite fish are caught. If your favorite fish isn’t caught through sustainable methods and you’re not willing to do it yourself then you may want to re-evaluate whether or not it’s worth it.
SASSI has a helpful guide on which fish should and should not be eaten: red list – never eat; orange list – eat w/ caution; green list – fine to eat.