Different tuna species serve different market segments. The eventual supply route of raw material to the proccessing factory therefor largely depends on the caught species, which is strongly related to capture method. The purse seine fleet targets mostly skipjack, and small juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna which mostly supply to the canneries. The longline and handline fleet target larger/adult yellowfin and bigeye tuna which predominantly serve the fresh and frozen tuna markets.
Frozen tuna steak production. Photo by: Jonah van Beijnen
The purse seine fleet freezes its catch immediately on board after which it is transhipped or landed in one of the 7 majority fish ports across the country. The tuna are then trucked to one of the canneries where they are then thawed, graded, cooked and canned. Most canneries also produce some other tuna products like tuna pouches and/or a variety of frozen value added products. These canneries are in most cases under the same ownership as the purse seine vessels.
Most longline vessels also freeze its catch on board after which it is landed in one of the 7 main landings sites. Many longliners auction their catch directly at these landing sites. Depending on the vessel and market demand, auctioned products can be whole, headed and gutted, fresh, or frozen tuna. From the auction site, the tuna is then transported to a cannery or another type of processing plant. Some A-grade catch that has not been frozen on board is sold to processing plants specialized in fresh tuna products.
Tagged tuna for traceability at a buying station. Photo by: Jonah van Beijnen
The supply chain of the handline fishery tends to be more complicated. Handline vessels land their catch close to the buying station that has financed their fishing trip. Often these are located near municipal landing sites but in many cases no recognizable landing site is present. At the buying station the tuna are then graded and chilled on ice. Once the buying station has sufficient tuna for a shipment (normally this takes between 12 – 48 hours after landing) the fish are sold to a processing plant that specializes in fresh tuna products. Some buying stations only work with one processing plant while other buying stations sell their tuna off to the highest bidder. Depending on the location of the buying station, the tuna are then loaded on a plane or truck destined for the processing plant.
With most tuna stocks in the WCPO being overfished or fished at maximum sustainable levels, canneries have a hard time getting sufficient raw material to keep their processing plants running. At the moment fisheries effort is increased to ensure sufficient landings but eventually the only solution to this problem is improved management of the tuna stocks.