Sea Quest – MSC Certified Albacore from Fiji
In November and December of 2015, FishWise staff Mariah Boyle and Elsie Tanadjaja went on a trip to the South Pacific to learn more about tuna fisheries. Tuna is the third most consumed seafood in this country, with fresh and frozen offerings in steaks and sashimi along with the American staple of canned tuna. Tuna are impressive fish – they are large, migrate throughout the world’s oceans, and have specialized physiology to swim fast and regulate their body temperatures. On this trip, Mariah and Elsie visited several countries and many companies. One of these was Sea Quest, based in Fiji.
Established in 2006, Sea Quest is a 100% locally owned tuna longline fishing company based out of the port of Suva, Fiji. It has grown from its small beginnings of three fishing vessels to a current total of six licensed longliners harvesting fresh tuna to be exported to international markets. Employing around 150 staff including crew, engineers, and administrative staff, Sea Quest prides itself on training and providing employment to locals, particularly from rural areas.
Sea Quest, among many other companies in this area, fish using longlines – about 98% of what the company catches is marketable in terms of species and size. Sea Quest annually harvests approximately 1,000 tons of fish; about 500 of which is fresh and destined for buyers primarily in Japan and the United States, as well as growing markets in New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union. All of their harvest is within Fiji’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In 2012, as one of four members of the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA), Sea Quest’s albacore tuna longline fishery was certified with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Between 50 and 60% of the Fijian tuna harvest is made up of albacore and represents a large portion of the country’s tuna export earnings. This accreditation allowed Sea Quest to access markets previously off limits due to the assurance that albacore tuna fished within Fiji was harvested from a sustainable and certified source. Certification by an internationally recognized organization like the MSC is vital recognition for the efforts towards creating a more sustainable and efficiently managed fishery.
Sea Quest continually stresses the importance of not only sustainable fishing practices but traceability throughout the supply chain. Since June 2013, Sea Quest and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), through it’s Smart Fishing Initiative, have teamed up to implement a project to prove that use of satellite technology on fishing vessels can not only increase safety on those vessels but promote legal and transparent fishing practices. Sea Quest had installed six Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitters on its tuna fishing vessels to demonstrate full transparency of the fleet’s fishing operations and has since been receiving positive feedback from its customers and boat captains.
Additionally, Fiji is a signatory country to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) as well as a signatory to UNCLOS and all relevant conventions, aimed at using effective management for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory species, such as tuna. Unfortunately, there have been recent concerns over the declining tuna stocks in the Pacific due to competition from foreign-flagged fishing vessels and overfishing of the stocks.
Fiji has taken some excellent strides to improve their offshore fishery management in recent years. Their monitoring and inspection of vessels returning to port has been improved, new fisheries regulations have been implemented, and managers are working collaboratively with fishers and fishing associations to address concerns.
There is still work to be done to manage tuna in a sustainable manner, globally. Efforts to improve traceability, vessel tracking, enforcement and set sustainable harvest limits will be vital to the long-term viability of these fish stocks. After our trip we’re in awe of these beautiful fish and look forward to working to ensure their sustainability is a priority.