August 9, 2013
Greenpeace is pointing an angry fin at Pittsburgh-based tuna producer StarKist. The environmental activists staged a protest on boats up and down the Allegheny River as crowds streamed by for a Pirates double header last week. The protest was one of a series held by Greenpeace in recent years to reform the industrial fishing industry and discourage fishing methods it says are unnecessarily destructive.
The most controversial method Greenpeace protested in Pittsburgh is the fishing aggregation device, or FAD. A FAD is a stationary buoy with long ropes that descend into the water. Over time, small ecosystems develop around the ropes—including small plants, tiny fish, and eventually, larger predators. Once the FAD reaches an appropriate mass, a net is used to scoop the whole thing onto the boat.
"Unfortunately this leads to killing turtles, sharks, rays and other incredible animals in the process. Quite frankly there are better ways to produce tuna," says James Mitchell, senior seafood campaigner with Greanpeace, based in Washington, D.C.
The unintended loss of other species—also called the bycatch rate—can be up to 25 percent in industrial fishing, which relies heavily on FADs. This bycatch includes the killing of juvenile tuna, which can threathen future stocks.
Other options voluntarily employed by some producers reduce this rate, to a substantial degree. Those methods include free school fishing, in which a net is used to capture a free-swimming school of tuna, and even simple pole-and-line fishing, which creates nearly zero bycatch but is also more labor and cost intensive.
With these alternatives in mind, Mitchell and a dozen other Greenpeace activists launched boats onto the Allegheny River in front the StarKist headquarters. They campaigned against StarKist and Korean parent company Dongwon, which was recently fined $2 million for illegal fishing in Liberia. Protestors used signs with slogans like “Don’t Wreck Our Oceans” and a costumed character that parodied StarKist mascot Charlie the Tuna, with large white tears on his face.
"It was definitely designed to get their attention and get them to call the executives at Dongwon to try to come up with a solution on this," says Mitchell.
Over 600 passersby signed or took photo petitions, which Greenpeace delivered to StarKist executives.
StarKist did not confirm nor deny whether they used the controversial fishing aggregation method, but said in a statement that it is the leader of several industry trade groups focused on seafood sustainability and remains committed to responsible practices.