We’ve ranked the major Australian canned tuna brands and supermarkets on their commitment to sustainability and human rights. Since our first guide, every brand in our ranking has committed to stop using destructive FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) and many have made other big improvements. But who isn’t keeping their promises?

Australians eat about 50,000 tonnes per year, but the global tuna industry is plagued by destructive fishing practices, illegal fishing, human rights abuses, and wasteful ‘bycatch’ from the use of FADs that kill sharks, turtles and other marine life. Scroll down to make a better choice the next time you buy tuna.

Glossary

Bycatch

Unwanted marine life caught when fishing, such as sharks, turtles and juvenile tuna. Some fishing methods have a higher rate of bycatch than others.

Fish aggregating devices or FADs

FADs are rafts made from various materials, like bamboo or plastic frames covered in netting, with long pieces of old fishing nets, ropes, and plastic ribbons hanging beneath them. Tuna and other marine life are attracted to these floating objects. Setting purse seine nets on FADs catches and kills 3 to 7 times more non-target species than fishing on free schools, including threatened sharks. High numbers of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna are also caught. Lost and abandoned FADs end up on beaches and tangled on coral reefs.

Pacific Commons

Also known as international waters or Pacific Commons, these areas fall outside the jurisdiction of nations and are targeted by illegal vessels. We want them to become marine reserves.

Illegal, unreported, unregulated vessels

They steal fish, and ignore management measures for protecting marine life, which exacerbates the overfishing crisis. Also known as pirate fishing vessels.

Longliners

Their lines are up to 100 kilometres long, baited with thousands of hooks. On average, longliners throw away 20% of unwanted catch, with large vessels discarding as much as as 30-40%. Bycatch includes threatened sharks, seabirds and sea turtles.

Marine reserves

Similar to national parks on land, they are areas free from fishing and other activities. Essential to replenish marine ecosystems.

Pole and line

One of the most sustainable methods of catching tuna because each fish is individually caught. Look out for pole and line caught tuna in your supermarket.

Purse seines

Giant nets that encircle schools of fish and then are drawn tight like a drawstring purse. Wasteful when used with FADs (how most purse seined tuna is caught), much better when FAD-free.

Human rights

Globally, the tuna industry needs to do more to protect the basic rights of people. Good commitments to addressing human rights and labour issues include not buying from vessels involved in transshipping fish at sea, independent monitoring, and ensuring a ‘living wage’ and good conditions for workers.

Skipjack tuna

Caught by purse seine (with and without FADs) and pole and line. Mostly found in cans. Often labelled “light tuna”. Not yet overfished, but if current catch rates continue it could be. Best if caught by pole and line or FAD-free purse seine (free school) as these have low bycatch rates.

Albacore tuna

Caught by pole and line, troll, and longline. Found in various forms; canned, smoked and fresh. Albacore is a mixed bag when it comes to health. Pacific populations are still relatively healthy but declining, and many small Pacific Island fleets targeting albacore are struggling to make a living. Atlantic stocks are recovering from a long period of depletion, while the Indian Ocean population is on the edge.

Yellowfin tuna

Caught by pole and line, handline, purse seine and longline. Mostly tuna steaks, sashimi or sushi but also in cans. Three out of four populations are overfished, with only the Western and Central Pacific stock remaining relatively healthy.

Bluefin tuna

Caught by longline and purse seine. Found in high-end restaurants as sashimi or in sushi. The most iconic and commercially valuable of all tuna. There are actually three different species: Atlantic, Pacific and Southern. The Atlantic population shows signs of recovering but is still considered Endangered. We have lost over 90% of the Southern bluefin population and 97% of the Pacific population.

Bigeye tuna

Caught by handline, purse seine and longline. Tuna steaks, sushi or sashimi. Less valuable small bigeye caught by purse seine can also be canned. Three out of four populations are overfished, with only the Indian Ocean stock relatively healthy.

Transshipment

The transfer of fish from one vessel to another at sea, allowing ships to stay at sea for long periods of time and avoid scrutiny by authorities. Reduces traceability and increases the risk of human rights abuses like bonded labour or slavery.

Transparency

Refers to how open a brand is to public scrutiny. Good transparency is demonstrated by having publicly available sustainability and ethical sourcing policies, good labelling and showing evidence of audits to verify claims.

Traceability

Refers to whether a company can trace its tuna from the ship that caught it to the shelf in the supermarket. Good traceability means you know exactly what the fish in the can is and when,where, and how it was caught.

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