Responsible tuna fishing as a guarantee of sustainable future

The Spanish purse seine fleet reaches certification requirements for five of the tropical tuna stocks it catches

The Spanish purse seine fleet reaches certification requirements for five of the tropical tuna stocks it catches

Five stocks of tropical tuna caught by the Spanish tuna fleet, out of a total of 12, meet the sustainability standards necessary to apply for MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification, specifically the yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye in the Central-Western Pacific and the yellowfin and skipjack in the Eastern Pacific, representing 30% of the 380,000 tonnes fished annually by our fleet (3% of the worldwide total tropical tuna catch).

MSC certification guarantees products from stocks in good condition caught by a fishing activity with minimal environmental impact and with exhaustive control. The fleet’s objective is to meet the necessary conditions so that the 12 tropical tuna stocks fished enter the certification process in 2021.

This is the result of the second year’s activity of the Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) that the Spanish tuna fleet, grouped in the Organización de Productores Asociados de Grandes Atuneros Congeladores (OPAGAC) has been carrying out, with the assistance of WWF, since 2016.

As it did in 2017, the FIP has applied the MSC’s Benchmarking and Tracking tool to measure its effectiveness, exceeding the expectations in the four Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs) – IATTC, WCPFC, IOTC and ICCAT- in which the 47 OPAGAC vessels operate. According to the assessment of an independent consultant, the indicators in the five above-mentioned stocks obtained scores above the minimum set by the MSC (average of 80 points out of 100 and no condition below 60 points), a necessary requirement for requesting its certification.

Likewise, in 2018 OPAGAC has sought synergies and aligned its actions with FIPs developed by other fleets such as the Ecuadorian organisation TUNACONS (Tuna Conservation Group) in the Eastern Pacific and the Sustainable Indian Ocean Tuna Initiative (SIOTI), which includes all the purse seining fleets of Spain, France, the Seychelles and Mauritius.

According to Julio Morón, Managing Director of OPAGAC, “Our Global Tuna FIP is leading the path for the purse seine fisheries in transition to MSC certification, this being the most complete initiative of this type in the world since it includes the three species fished in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, comprising all fishing modes used by purse seiners.”

“Sustainability,” adds Morón, “must be a priority in the agenda of any fleet and alliances with other organisations with a FIP under way are an excellent means to achieve a more constructive dialogue in the RFMOs and to involve governments, the commercial chain and the consumers.”

Despite the good progress of this FIP, we are still facing important problems of international governance that hinder the long-term sustainable development of the tropical tuna fishing populations and, especially, the recovery of overfished stocks such as the Atlantic bigeye tuna. The slow progress in setting harvest control rules (HCRs) and suitable monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures for all the fisheries aiming at these species compromises their long-term sustainability.

In this sense, José Luis García Varas, head of the Oceans Programme in WWF Spain, commented, “There are still numerous challenges to ensuring that tropical tuna fisheries are sustainable and have minimal impacts on the ecosystem. The European Union must show greater leadership in the RFMOs to reach agreements that establish a framework of sustainability for these species in the 21st century. ICCAT’s complete failure in 2018 to adopt measures that allow the recovery of bigeye tuna without further delay illustrates the type of challenges we are facing.”

Data collection, selectivity and minimal impact

In 2018, and within the framework of its FIP, OPAGAC continued to contribute to improving the assessment of the stocks of tropical tuna, providing  AZTI technology institute with the data collected by the satellite buoys attached to the fish aggregating devices (FADs) used by the fleet. The fleet will also continue to collaborate in the three European projects in which it is involved, increasing the availability of non-official data provided by the fishing sector to improve science in the areas of competence of the four RFMOs in which it operates.

Concerning the reduction of fishing impacts on the ecosystem, in 2019 our fleet will continue to promote studies in the three oceans to assess the contribution of purse seine and other gears, such as longline and drift nets, to the mortality of bycatch species, fundamentally sharks, cetaceans and marine turtles. In this regard, the study undertaken by the fleet and presented to the IOTC in 2018 showed the low impact of purse seine in the Indian Ocean – 0.15% in the case of sharks, rays and manta rays, 0.3% for turtles and nil for marine mammals – due to the implementation of OPAGAC’s Code of Best Practices.

Equally, the fleet will continue to participate in the BIOFADs projects in the Indian and Eastern Pacific Oceans, in which the effectiveness of biodegradable FADs will be assessed. In addition, in 2018, OPAGAC assessed the results of its pilot FADs collection programme in the Seychelles during 2016 and 2017 (FAD-Watch), and aims to replicate it in other areas. OPAGAC also ensured the continuity of the FAD-Watch programme which from 2019 will include the participation of most of the purse seining operators in the Indian Ocean after adding all the members of SIOTI.

Finally, the objectives in the next three years will focus on improving the three pillars on which the FIP rests – better science, reduced ecosystem impacts and improved ocean governance. This will be achieved through the provision of FAD data, support to capacity-building and compliance with data requirements in developing coastal states, support to the adoption of harvest strategies, and close work with other FIPs and NGOs. OPAGAC will also keep advocating for the expansion of the use of electronic monitoring systems (EMS), and work towards improving the information on endangered, threatened or protected species.




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