Pew: Commercial Tuna Fishing Contributes More Than $40 Billion Annually to Global Economy

Study finds that despite catch increases, value has declined

Tuna Fishing Contributes More Than $40 Billion to Global Economy

WASHINGTON—Commercial tuna fisheries contribute more than $40 billion each year to the global economy, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, “Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation,” estimates the catch, dock value, and end value of fisheries targeting the seven most commercially important tuna species in 2016 and 2018. An update to the first-ever tuna valuation study, which Pew published in 2016, the report shows that catch rose from 4.6 million metric tons in 2012 to 5.2 million metric tons in 2018. But despite more tunas being caught and sold, the end value—the total amount paid by the consumer at restaurants and supermarkets—declined to about $40.8 billion in 2018, nearly $1 billion less than in 2012.

Because the tuna valuations in the report do not include the substantial but difficult-to-measure values associated with unreported catch, fish caught in non-commercial tuna fisheries, and estimates of tunas’ worth to marine ecosystems, the true value of the world’s tuna species is likely much higher than $40.8 billion.

“The tuna business is incredibly valuable,” said Amanda Nickson, who directs Pew’s international fisheries work. “But now we can conclusively see that catching more fish does not necessarily result in greater economic value.”

The report, which provides data by ocean region, species, and the gear used to catch tunas, found the total catch in the Pacific Ocean has the highest value of any region, estimated at more than $26 billion in each of the years analyzed. Globally, skipjack tuna accounted for more than half of the total volume of all tunas landed globally, with an end value of $16.1 billion in 2018. Purse seine vessels, which use large nets to encircle schools of fish, landed $23.4 billion worth of tunas that same year—the majority of tunas caught worldwide.

High demand for tuna products has led to the overfishing of several stocks. Over the last few decades, eastern Pacific yellowfin, Pacific bluefin, Atlantic bigeye, Indian Ocean yellowfin, and southern bluefin, whose catch was valued at a combined $8.5 billion in 2018, have been depleted below levels that scientists have determined are sustainable. Continued overfishing of these stocks could reduce both their size and their value, causing both biological and economic harm.

The report concludes that management of these fisheries must be improved and stocks rebuilt to sustainable levels. Tunas are critical to marine ecosystems, industry, and individual livelihoods, and science-based, precautionary management could ensure that key species recover.

“Implementing a modernized fisheries management system, known as harvest strategies, would eliminate an ineffective cycle of managers prioritizing short-term profits over the long-term value and health of tuna populations,” Nickson said. “Adopting a harvest strategies approach would not only increase transparency and predictability but ensure more economic security for the millions of people who rely on the tuna industry for jobs and food security.”

The report summarizes an analysis that Pew commissioned from Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd., a consulting firm based in the United Kingdom.

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