The American Albacore Fishing Association, based in San Diego, California was officially certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent standard-setting organisation that ensures fish are caught according to strict methods that avoid overfishing and the unintended capture of other fish, seabirds and marine mammals (bycatch).
WWF sponsored the assessment of the fishery, hailing it as a hopeful sign for dramatically declining tuna stocks, fishing livelihoods and food security.
"If we want our grandchildren to have tuna on their dinner plates and in the sea, sustainable tuna fishing practices must be adopted," said Meredith Lopuch, director, Community Fisheries Program, World Wildlife Fund. "Certification of the first sustainable tuna fishery shows it can be done and if others change to improve their practices and follow suit, there's a future for tuna and tuna fisheries."
Consumers will be able to buy the MSC-Certified tuna in stores nationwide later this year.
With an export catch valued at US $5 billion in 2002, the world's tuna fisheries now face a number of urgent problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems.
"We hope to encourage and inspire not only consumers, but other fisheries, that harvesting in a sustainable method is good for a fishery, fishing families and is the only direction for the future," said Natalie Webster, Administrator, American Albacore Fishing Association.
Currently, all 23 commercially exploited tuna stocks are heavily fished, with at least nine classified as fully fished and four more classified as over exploited or depleted. Three are considered Critically Endangered, three Endangered, and three are deemed Vulnerable to Extinction.
"This really is a milestone event and one that demonstrates the applicability of the MSC programme to migratory species," said Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC.
MSC says that dwindling stocks of many tuna species are of increasing concern. The certification of the AAFA tuna fishery is a huge achievement for the fishermen. Because of the way they fish, the AAFA fishery has virtually no by-catch. By demonstrating their sustainable practices through MSC certification, AAFA is making it possible for consumers to make the best environmental choice in tuna.
Together, the seven principal market species - albacore, Atlantic bluefin, bigeye, Pacific bluefin, skipjack, southern bluefin and yellowfin - are the single most important resource exploited on the high seas, accounting for over seven percent of total marine capture fisheries production and 11 percent of the total value of fish landings for consumption.