Lifeline for tuna as landmark ruling slams unsustainable fishing

Fishing of threatened tuna in one of world’s largest fisheries thrown in doubt by landmark ruling

Photo credit - Alex Hofford / Greenpeace

Tuna fishing in a swathe of Pacific Ocean covering a fifth of the world’s surface has been thrown into question by a landmark ruling that criticised it for putting species at potential risk of extinction.

An independent adjudicator for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has upheld two key objections by the Coalition for Transparent Tuna Fisheries (CTTF) to the licensing of the Pacific Ocean’s immense Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) fishery.

Adjudicator John McKendrick QC voiced concerns over harvest control rules and habitats management – a ruling that means bigeye tuna extracted from the area will not meet the MSC standard needed for it to be sold in most western markets.

The decision highlights concerns over the use of environmentally destructive fish aggregating devices or FADs – manmade floats that drift across the ocean which are blamed for decimating populations of sharks, turtles, and juvenile tuna.

Photo credit - Jamie Ling / Greenpeace

The viability of the much bigger-selling yellowfin and skipjack tuna is now in doubt as the MSC prepares to consider whether or not their fishing is sustainable in the light of McKendrick’s ruling.

In his ruling, John McKendrick QC said, _"there are no harvest control rules in place or available". _He also cast doubt on the overall sustainability of FADs, "I agree that FAD fishing and purse seine is damaging to the marine environment".

McKendrick also said there is no evidence to show harvest control rules would be introduced to ensure bigeye tuna stocks would not fall below sustainable levels if fishing of the species continued.

Photo credit - Jamie Ling / Greenpeace

The decision has been hailed as a major victory in the campaign to stop unsustainable tuna fishing. “It places a depth charge beneath the destructive habits of the global tuna fishing industry,” said Coalition for Transparent Tuna Fisheries convenor Alex Hofford.

“This is a watershed moment, and it could trigger a tsunami of rulings that finally slow down the relentless destruction of ocean species. Many retailers in the United Kingdom source their tuna from purse seine fisheries in the Pacific so this ruling on FADs could have significant future impacts on their supply chains.”

In its objection, a total of fifteen points of objection were submitted by CTTF, and two were upheld by McKendrick – one point related to 'Habitats Management Strategy' (PI 2.4.2) and one to 'Harvest Control Rules' (PI 1.2.2). According to the rules of the MSC objections process, even if only one point is upheld, the fishery under assessment cannot be certified as sustainable.

CTTF is now calling on the Marine Stewardship Council to immediately halt any new drifting FAD fisheries being proposed for MSC certification to save its reputation as a responsible certification body with integrity.


The MSC’s Independent Adjudicator John McKendrick QC’s Post Remand Decision dated 12 July 2022 can be downloaded and read here

(Click on PNABigeyePostRemand.pdf)

A whale shark trapped in a tuna net (Photo: Anonymous)

A turtle trapped in a drifting Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) - used for tuna fishing - in the Pacific Ocean

Photo credit - Alex Hofford / Greenpeace