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World's First Sustainable Tuna Fishery Certified, Bringing Hope to Troubled Industry

SAN DIEGO-The world's first certified sustainable tuna fishery was announced today, a move that could help save one of the world's most valuable fish - and the fishing industry that relies on it - from extinction.

The American Albacore Fishing Association based in San Diego, CA was officially certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent standard-setting organization that ensures fish are caught according to strict methods that avoid overfishing and bycatch (the unintended capture of other fish, seabirds and marine mammals). WWF sponsored the assessment of the fishery, hailing the move as a hopeful sign for dramatically declining tuna stocks, fishing livelihoods and food security.

"If we want our grandchildren to have tuna on their dinner plates and in the sea, sustainable tuna fishing practices must be adopted," said Meredith Lopuch, director, Community Fisheries Program, World Wildlife Fund. "Certification of the first sustainable tuna fishery shows it can be done and if others change to improve their practices and follow suit, there's a future for tuna and tuna fisheries."

Consumers will be able to buy the MSC-Certified tuna in stores nationwide later this year.

With an export catch valued at US $5 billion in 2002, the world's tuna fisheries now face a number of urgent problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems -- declining stocks, poor fishing management and regulation, and significant bycatch.

"We hope to encourage and inspire not only consumers but other fisheries, that harvesting in a sustainable method is good for a fishery, fishing families and is the only direction for the future," said Natalie Webster, Administrator, American Albacore Fishing Association.

Currently all 23 commercially exploited tuna stocks are heavily fished, with at least nine classified as fully fished and four more classified as overexploited or depleted. Three are considered Critically Endangered, three as Endangered, and three as Vulnerable to Extinction.

"This really is a milestone event and one that demonstrates the applicability of the MSC programme to migratory species." said Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC. "The dwindling stocks of many tuna species are of increasing concern for consumers. The certification of the AAFA tuna fishery is a huge achievement for the fishermen. Because of the way they fish, the AAFA fishery has virtually no by-catch. By demonstrating their sustainable practices through MSC certification, AAFA is making it possible for consumers to make the best environmental choice in tuna."

Together, the seven principal market species-albacore, Atlantic bluefin, bigeye, Pacific bluefin, skipjack, southern bluefin and yellowfin-are the single most important resource exploited on the high seas, accounting for over 7 percent of total marine capture fisheries production and 11 percent of the total value of fish landings for consumption.

The AAFA tuna fishery is a small, family-run fishery operating out of San Diego. Its members pride themselves on the care they take to protect the marine environment. Skipper Jack "Bandini" Webster explains: "Tuna fishermen seem to get a bad rap in a worldwide way. Most of the fishermen who are left love the ocean: you've got to love it because it's real hard work. Being certified sustainable is important to us. Fishermen who are doing the right thing should prove that they are and talk about it. That's what this certificate is all about."

With 21 vessels, AAFA harvests about 30 percent of albacore tuna caught using the troll and/or pole and line method in the North Pacific. The troll and/or pole and line method avoids bycatch. In trolling, some of the smaller, younger 3-5 year old albacore found near the ocean's surface are caught with short fishing lines attached to barbless hooks. These hooks are hidden inside rubber "hoola skirts" that dance in the water and attract young albacore. When an albacore bites a hook it is immediately removed from the water and prepared for freezing.

In contrast, tuna longline fisheries deployed an estimated 1.2 billion hooks just in 2000 alone, which captured and killed many non-target species including seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals, sharks and other fish. Longline and purse-seine fishing methods account for nearly three-quarters of global tuna catches.

Tuna are one of the ocean's most magnificent fish. Champion long-distance swimmers and amongst the ocean's top predators, these extremely valuable fish are found throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and their adjacent seas.

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Known in the United States as World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world.

NOTE TO EDITORS:
B-roll and high-resolution photographs of tuna are available to accompany press stories based on this release and mentioning World Wildlife Fund. AAFA photos of pole fishing are also available. If used, appropriate credit must also be given to the photographer.