By Finless Foods Impact Advisor, Jack Kittinger
Tuna are incredible. If you’ve ever seen a video clip of tuna in a feeding frenzy, they look like missiles, moving at incredible speeds. If you’re a mackerel, you hardly stand a chance. Looking at this amazing animal in action, I had to wonder, what does it take to make tuna?
I think it takes three things. First, it takes engineering. Evolution is the greatest engineer the planet has ever known, and it used a single tool to do so: the mistake. You can see that in the body plan of a tuna, which enables their incredible speed. For a skipjack tuna, what is even more amazing is that the species reaches sexual maturity in 9-12 months. At this point, it spawns everyday for the rest of its life. The potential for replenishment is extraordinary – this is an amazingly resilient animal.
It also takes ecosystems. To make tuna, you need a healthy ecosystem. Every night while we are sleeping, the greatest migration on earth happens in the sea. Billions of squid, small fish, and other critters migrate up from the twilight zone into the upper layers of the ocean where tuna prey on these species. The thundering schools of tuna are fed through this daily migration, and their prey are in turn fueled by the primary productivity of the ocean. We must remember that tuna, among other species, are the last food source on earth that we still hunt. We have to keep these wild populations, and the ecosystems they rely on, healthy. The ocean can produce healthy and sustainable food for humanity. But this only happens if we take care of the ecosystem. Tuna need a healthy ocean.
It used to be that evolution and ecosystems were enough for tuna. Not anymore. Today, it also takes empathy. In short, it takes us, because we rely on the ocean for survival. It takes us because humanity continues to hurl a bevy of onslaughts that are systematically reducing the productive capacity of the oceans. It takes us, because it is actually for us, too. The stakes couldn’t be higher – more than 3 billion people survive on fish. And many of our fish stocks are collapsing – about a third, globally.
For wild-caught tuna, empathy and engaged, informed actions are key to making tuna for generations to come. The mighty bluefin continues to be in peril, driven by the appetite for bluefin meat and the exorbitant price the fish captures in the market. For commercially harvested tuna species, the stocks in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are not in great shape. The Pacific has done a far better job – particularly in the Pacific Islands region, which is a hallmark of sustainability and a model for cooperative management among nations. But even well-managed tuna fisheries are plagued with high levels of catch for threatened and endangered species. Additionally, the plight of fishworkers at sea continues to become more visible with each new report of human rights abuses of fishing crew and workers in processing facilities. These are serious problems and they require serious responses.
I’m grateful to be part of that response. When we can see that tuna’s evolutionary engineering and ecosystems can longer fully stand on their own, you can also be a part of the response. We can prioritize sustainable purchasing decisions by being informed consumers. Resources like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation’s Status of the Stocks Report and Conservation International’s Ocean Health Index offer insights into why sustainable purchasing decisions are so critical. We can also look to alternatives to seafood, such as Finless Foods, that are helping to complement wild-caught tuna fisheries with plant-based and cell-cultured seafood. Through empathy and action, these incredible fish – and the people involved in bringing them to our plate – can be treated with the respect and honor they deserve.
Meet Jack Kittinger
Dr. John N. (“Jack”) Kittinger is a Vice President in Conservation International’s Center for Oceans and a Research Professor in Arizona State University’s Global Futures Laboratory and School of Sustainability. Under his leadership, CI works to protect biodiversity and improve the wellbeing of ocean-dependent communities by implementing sustainable fisheries and aquaculture solutions built on partnerships and investments from ocean to plate. A lifelong surfer, fisherman, and waterman, he is committed to ocean-based learning experiences and to being in the water as often as possible. Dr. Jack Kittinger and his family currently live in Niu Valley, Oahu, Hawai‘i.