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World Tuna Day

May 2, 2021

Is your tuna sustainable?

Tuna and tuna-like species are very important economically — to both developed and developing countries — and a significant source of food. They include approximately 40 species occurring in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea.

They are remarkable fish. Tuna can jump high out of the water; they travel in huge schools; they are warm-blooded. They have been known to team up with dolphins for protection from sharks.

But that is not all. We go so much further considering their nutritional properties. Their meat is rich in Omega-3, also contains minerals, proteins and vitamin B12, among other advantages.

As a result of the amazing qualities of tuna, the fish are threatened by an overwhelming demand.

That is why in December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly voted to officially observe the World Tuna Day in its resolution 71/124.

The move underlines the importance of conservation management to ensure that we have systems in place to prevent tuna stocks from crashing. Many countries depend heavily on tuna resources for food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue, livelihoods, culture and recreation. That means, reaching and working our “Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources from the SDG”, considering the global tuna market.

An overview of the the situation

Two main products drive tuna production; traditional canned tuna and sashimi/sushi. These products demonstrate relevant differences in terms of the species utilized, quality requirements and production systems.

In the canned market, light meat species – namely skipjack and yellowfin – are dominant, whereas in the sushi and sashimi market, the fatty tuna of bluefin and other red meat species like bigeye are preferred. Bluefin tuna is the top preference for the sushi and sashimi market with most of it going to Japan.

Approximately 7 million tonnes of tuna and tuna-like species are harvested yearly. These migratory tuna species account for 20 per cent of the value of all marine capture fisheries and over 8 per cent of all globally traded seafood. With that information in mind, we need to recognize the critical role of tuna to sustainable development, food security, economic opportunity, and livelihoods of people around the world.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization notes that market demand for tuna is still high, and that the significant overcapacity of tuna fishing fleets remains. In its latest report from 2018, FAO registered that combined catches of tuna and tuna-like species levelled off at around 7.5 million tonnes in 2016 after an all-time maximum in 2014 (7.7 million tonnes). Even with that small reduction, there is still a need for effective management to restore the overfished stocks including tuna.

Addressing the decline in tuna stocks resulting from overfishing in the world’s oceans, the UN Legal Counsel emphasizes the critical importance of effectively implementing the international legal framework, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, widely known as UNCLOS, which has been strengthened by the Code of Conduct for Sustainable Fishery, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, recommendations of its Review Conference, annual General Assembly resolutions on sustainable fisheries, as well as other efforts by the international community at the global, regional and national levels.

At present, over 96 countries are involved in the conservation and management of tuna that has an annual value of almost 10 billion USD, at landing, and some FAO relevant programmes have started giving positive results in reducing overfishing.


May 2, 2021