The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. We look at the organization’s endeavors to protect marine environments and promote sustainable fishing.
This collaboration between scientists, the World Wildlife Fund, and many of the world’s biggest tuna processing companies was established in 2009 with the goal of conserving tuna stocks and reducing bycatch.
The organization works with marine conservationists and tuna fisheries to establish best practices. It advises governments and policymakers around the world to help them formulate regulations and legislation to protect oceans and fish stocks.
The ISSF works with scientists and marine biologists to devise new technology to enable fisheries to become more efficient.
Around 40% of the fish caught today goes to waste.
Bycatch is a massive problem. Experts estimate that each year, commercial fisheries discard around 38 million tonnes of marine life, which represents about 40% of the 95.2 million tonnes of marine catch. One of the main goals of the ISSF is to reduce bycatch, protect global fish stocks, and preserve marine life for future generations.
When fishing vessels go out on an expedition, they target specific fish species. The United States and many other countries around the world implement strict fishing quota schemes. Any non-target marine life accidentally caught by a fishing vessel must be returned to the ocean, whether they are commercially valuable or not.
By the time of release, much marine life is already dead or dying. Bycatch is not only detrimental to marine ecologies and long-term food security, but economically damaging to commercial fisheries. It contributes to overfishing, as well as jeopardizing fishermen’s income and livelihood, wasting their precious time and money landing fish that ultimately must be thrown back.
Bycatch consists of thousands of different marine species.
Juvenile fish constitute a large proportion of bycatch. Fishing quotas place limitations on the size of the fish that can be caught. If fishermen catch undersized target fish, they must return them to the ocean. While size limits are designed to protect breeding colonies, non-target species can easily get caught up in purse-seine nets. Returning dead fish to the sea does nothing to aid the recovery of depleted fish stocks. A prime example is the North Atlantic cod, which was once considered to be one of the most productive species on the planet, but was pushed to the brink of extinction by overfishing.
Bycatch is the single most common cause of death for small cetaceans. While larger whales are capable of breaking free from fishing gear, the injuries that they often sustain in the process incapacitate them and lead to their eventual death.
Other marine species commonly caught as bycatch include cetaceans, with environmentalists estimating that more than 300,000 dolphins, porpoises, and small whales die every year as a result of becoming entangled with fishing gear.
ISSF initiatives protect tuna stocks, reduce bycatch, and combat illegal fishing.
The ISSF has identified overfishing, illegal fishing, and bycatch as among the biggest threats to global tuna stocks and marine conservation. The organization supports numerous initiatives to track, report, and minimize bycatch, particularly in purse-seine fishing. It supports research programs investigating more effective fishing methods, reducing the negative impact of commercial fishing on species levels and local ecosystems. It is also working to require retention of by-catch by the fishing vessels as there may be markets for this fish, including within lower income populations.
The ISSF works with tuna vessel skippers to seek input and share mitigation methods. It tackles illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through the implementation of the ProActive Vessel Register, a third-party auditing database that promotes vessels implementing industry best practices and transparent reporting.
ISSF research and advocacy work is integral to tuna conservation, both within US waters and worldwide. The organization attends every major tuna RFMO meeting to maintain global tuna resources, promote sustainable fishing practices, and protect marine ecosystems.
Through workshops and knowledge sharing, the ISSF promotes best practices with fishery managers to ensure the long-term sustainability of tuna fish stocks. Its Scientific Advisory Committee publishes a Status of the Stocks Report annually, providing a comprehensive analysis of global tuna species stocks. The ISSF consults with policymakers across the globe, reports findings, and advocates for specific conservation measures to protect threatened species for future generations.