April 18. 2024. 8:30

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A Fishy Business?

The value of the global tuna market is in excess of £34.6 billion. There are various methods of tuna fishing used globally. The main ones are pole and line, where tuna is fished one by one, and large net methods which are often used alongside Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) — structures mimicking naturally occurring phenomena (like floating tree trunks) that aggregate fish, making them easier to catch. Usually, firms subscribe to either technique, but not both.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), an intergovernmental organization established under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean.

John Burton is the founder, Chairman, Director, and majority shareholder of World Wise Foods (WWF), a UK firm procuring and marketing tuna to several major retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Aldi, and Whole Foods. As the majority shareholder, he owns over 75% of World Wise Foods, giving him significant control. He is also the co-founder and former Chairman and is currently a trustee, of UK-registered charity the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF), which lobbies decision-makers who may then pass legislation that benefits WWF. In this way it is suggested that Burton uses his position in both IPNLF and WWF to further his own business interests.

For instance, the IPNLF allegedly uses its influence as an observer at the IOTC to promote WWF. According to Harrison Charo Karisa, a former director at the Kenyan State Fisheries Department, as well as the former head of the Kenyan IOTC delegation, the IPNLF makes sure that people understand pole and line fishing in order for it to be accepted and persuasive for coastal states. "

These coastal states support the IPNLF and in return, Burton supports them in a commercially viable way. WWF operations are focused on coastal states such as the

Maldives is a small exporter to the UK, but it is understood WWF aims to expand their market share through the IPNLF, lobbying for the pole and line industry.

Further, according to Adnan Ali, the former Director and Trustee of the IPNLF, and current Director of Horizon Fisheries (the main Maldivian supplier of tuna to WWF), Burton established the IPNLF "to promote WWF, and that is why he wanted to get the exclusivity of this pole and line fishing under his control, and then contribute, because it’s very good business."


This appears to indicate a pattern where the IPNLF influences IOTC delegates to restrict Fish Aggregating Devices, as part of its effort to promote pole and line fishing, which would, in turn, benefit WWF.

Urs Baumgartner, a trustee at the IPNLF, alleged: "he [Burton] said, ‘I need to create a brand, so people see the difference in the shop’, and then supermarkets know they can put a different price... that’s why he [Burton] created the charity".

Roy Bealey, the Fisheries Consultant at the IPNLF, confirmed that suppliers "become members specifically to gain financially for their own companies", they "pay purely to be associated with us". According to Bealey, these companies are then able to use the IPNLF logo on their products, leveraging their connection to the IPNLF, enabling its members to benefit from the IPNLF’s good reputation, for commercial gain.

The IPNLF proposals against FAD fishing also have deep implications on the UK consumer market, as only 7% of the global tuna catch is caught by pole and line. For example, the IPNLF advocates for implementing an oceanwide FAD closure and reducing the number of FADs that can be deployed and used. Should significant limitations be placed on FADS, pole and line producers, like WWF, will see windfall profits from such a market shift. In one documented case, where a temporary ban on FADs was imposed m West Africa, the month-on-month wholesale price rose by more than 2% for skipjack and more than 1 % for yellowfin.4

The effects, especially on British consumers, would be one of soaring costs, and hurt access to affordable tuna due to diminished availability. The Blue Marine Foundation highlights a stark reality: 69% of British consumers regularly consume tuna, with 22% relying on canned tuna weekly. From June ‘22 to June ‘23, UK residents spent E408.5 million on 61,012 tonnes of tuna, marking it as the nation’s second most favoured seafood after salmon.

The larger catch, particularly for cheap tuna species like skipjack, which is the leading species sold by UK retailers, is critical to feeding people living in poverty. A shift to pole and line-caught tuna will price out many from an important protein source, with land-based alternatives invariably imposing greater carbon costs on the planet.

Moreover, more stable catches from purse seine fleets create improved job security for tens of thousands of workers in developed and developing countries alike. This job security matters in places like Mauritius and the Seychelles, but also in the UK where a 2022 fisheries report shows an industry in decline. FADs are critical in maintaining global carbon-reduction goals while also securing economic and food security for millions.

Although bluefin tuna has returned to UK waters in recent years, the UK is a net importer of tuna and continues to be a large Importer of tuna m the world. According to the UK Sea Fisheries annual report of 2022, the largest exporters of tuna to the UK were Ecuador, Mauritius, and the Seychelles. The latter two countries in the Indian Ocean would be devastated by the significant limitations on FADs and m fact, only 16 of the 30 IOTC member countries voted in favour of banning FAD fisheries in the Indian Ocean.

https://www.imarcgroup.com/tuna-market#~:text=The global tuna market size,3.4% during 2024