John Burton, co-founder and President of the International Pole and Line Foundation, came to Faial to participate in the World First One by One Tuna Fishing Conference, organised by the Regional Secretariat of the Sea, Science and Technology.
“Pole and line fishing is the most responsible way to catch tuna” and its bigger threat “is the increasing use of Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) over the years”, said John Burton
Tribuna das Ilhas - What is the main goal of the International Pole and Line Foundation?
John Burton - The main goal of the Foundation is to bring together fisheries and the market whereby creating marketing demand we could assist to fishing communities to get a good and premium price for that fish. We are all about looking after the future of fishermen and their communities.
TI- Is pole and line fishing a way to reach tuna sustainability? How can this art enable sustainability in the tuna market?
JB - Pole and line fishing is the most responsible way to catch tuna. Whereas pole and line fishing is very selective and there is very little bycatch, other fishing methods such as purse seining that catch juvenile tuna and other species are more destructive. Pole and line fishing only represents 10 % of the world’s catch, but not all off those 10 % finds its way to the market. Therefore, our first objective is to try to get all those 10 % to the market as pole and line in order to fishermen can get a premium price.
TI- Can pole and line fishing alone fully meet the global demand for tuna?
JB - Like I said before, pole and line fishing represents 10 % of the world’s catch and we are trying to put it all on the market to the benefit of fishermen, but there are other developing fisheries around the world, for instance, in East Africa and in the Pacific, that we would like to encourage to catch with more pole and line.
TI- Do you consider that the removal of large amounts of bait fish can cause an impact on the ecosystem?
JB - I think a simple way to answer that question is no, because we use various species for bait fish in pole and line tuna fishing that reproduce very quickly. For example, the Maldives’ fisheries are 900 years old and we have always found sufficient bait to support the pole and line fishing.
TI- Are FADs (Fish Aggregating Device) a real threat to one by one fisheries?
JB - We have been talking, over lunch, about the problems with stable and reducing catching of pole and line and one of the major contributively factors is the increasing use of FADs over the years. If we look, for instance, at the Maldives’ fisheries, one of the biggest pole and line fisheries in the world, where no nets are allowed, in the Indian Ocean at large, we see an increase in deployment in FADs, making it more difficult for the Maldivian fishermen to find fish. 40 years ago, before industrial purse seining, Maldives accounted for 80 % of the catch in the Indian Ocean, but now accounts for only 20 %. Within the Indian Ocean we now got limits on the number of FADs, a step in the right direction, but the limits are too high. In other tuna fisheries, there are no limits. In the last five years, in the Western Ocean Pacific, the biggest tuna fishery in the world, the number of FADs has increased from 30.000 for 80.000. This said, FADs are a problem.
TI- Do you consider that pole and line fishing reduces bycatch when compared with other fishing methods?
JB - Although I keep talking about the Maldives, it is the cleanest and greenest tuna fishery in the world and the home of pole and line. We have done observer work in the Maldives to prove that the bycatch in pole and line is significantly lower than the bycatch, particularly, with purse seining which is the main area of competition for tuna.
TI- What is missing to get people to consume products from more sustainable fishing methods?
JB - I have been in this industry of pole and line fishing for 33 years and I have seen, in the last ten years, an increasing demand for pole and line around the world since is the most responsible way of catching tuna and the consumers are becoming more and more aware of that. The Maldives are the home of pole and line fishing, but my country, the UK, was the home of the market of pole and line, the very first market demanding pole and line. However, that was 10 years ago and now the demand is becoming worldwide as retailers and consumers become more concerned. Consequently, what is missing is not enough pole and line and a bit more of consumer awareness, but we are trying to drive that consumer awareness by the Foundation and by our retail members.
TI- The certification system gives customers the impression that purchasing certain products helps the ocean more than it really does. Are the actual certification systems delivering on their promises?
JB -There is only one credible certification system in the world of fisheries and that is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). For many years they have been helping fisheries to develop and prove themselves and become MSC certified. Nevertheless, in recent times, they have seen to be putting profit and certified fisheries that are probably not sustainable before sustainability . In the world of tuna, there is a big fishery in the Western Pacific, where fishers catch free swimming schools and FADs on the same trip, on the same vessel, and the free swimming school element is MSC certified, but the FAD element isn’t. So, is it right that the vessel fishes sustainably and unsustainably on the same trip? No, sustainable plus unsustainable doesn’t equal sustainable. The standard has been lowered to enable more fisheries to become certified.