Why Business Innovation is the Key to Thriving Tuna Fisheries

Courtesy of Imayado "Unload the Ship"
Courtesy of Imayado “Unload the Ship”

I’ve been thinking a lot about tuna lately.

It’s an important fish in a number of ways: Canned tuna accounted for about 16 percent of all of seafood consumed by Americans in 2013, and today it’s the third most popular seafood in the U.S. Tuna is critical to island economies, where it’s an important source of protein and income for locals. And while the health of some tuna stocks has improved, long-term sustainability remains a challenge.

Local market in Pohnpei

On recent trips to Micronesia and Fiji for Fish 2.0 workshops, I saw some of the issues firsthand. Tuna is on the menu in Micronesia for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yet the amount of tuna consumed there is a tiny portion of what is caught in Micronesian waters—the bulk of the catch is shipped overseas to Japan, Thailand or the U.S. Very little of the fishery’s value stays in island communities.

In Fiji, foreign vessels licensed to fish off-shore catch—and own—almost all the tuna pulled from Fijian waters. The fish is cleaned and cut into loins by local businesses and then shipped to the U.S. or other locales for canning. While this processing work creates much-needed jobs for Fijians, again, only a fraction of the value of Fijian tuna stays in Fiji. Tuna processors from Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea tell the same story.

The rapid consolidation and vertical integration now happening in the tuna industry is exacerbating this problem. The three biggest brands—Bumble Bee, Tsukiji market JapanChicken of the Sea and Starkist—represent about 75 percent of the U.S. tuna market. Thai Union Frozen Products, the world’s biggest producer of canned tuna, already owns Chicken of the Sea. Now it’s <a target="_blank" —> Read More