FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
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New initiative develops tuna products in Pacific Island countries

In Kiribati participants learn a variety of tuna processing techniques

The FishFAD project (also known as Enhancing livelihoods and food security through fisheries with nearshore fish aggregating devices in the Pacific) is developing tuna products to provide both local income and nutrient-dense options in Pacific Island countries.

In June this year, the first training on manufacturing tuna products was held in Bairiki, Kiribati. The four-day training included beneficiaries from South Tarawa and representatives from the Betio fish aggregating device (FAD) committee and Kiribati’s Coastal Fisheries Division (FD), within the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development. 

Processing these tuna products begins with improving how fish catch are handled once onboard a fishing vessel, where they are immediately iced. There are currently four tuna products available:

  1. Tuna jerky (savory dried tuna slices), which is marinated and solar dried using a gentle process. It is shelf stable for up to 12 months.
  2. Tuna sausages, which capture the natural fish texture in a gourmet sausage. These require storage in a domestic freezer.
  3. Lightly brined, smoked and cured tuna steaks. These are dried to produce a shelf-stable tuna steak, which needs to be soaked in water for 20 minutes prior to cooking.
  4. Micro canned tuna, which is a gourmet product available in a can or jar. When sold in a jar, it provides a reusable and recyclable storage option, compared with cans that are mostly single use.

FD is also supporting this work by assisting interested and committed trainees from the Nawerewere village in Kiribati in starting a commercial pilot trial. This initiative will expand the development of tuna products into an urban community environment.

Director of Coastal Fisheries Division, Ms Tooreka Temar of Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development said. “The training has provided a good platform for networking and exchange of skills, old and new, among the women in the field of fish processing.” Ms Temar noted that throughout the training, women are also trained to have basic understanding on the concept of good hygiene practice and proper infrastructure and adhering to these standards will contribute in the safe consumption of their products. “Therefore, learning and possessing these skills and knowledge is crucial helping one another in a success business when one wish to embark on such journey.”

Nutrients in tuna include omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, magnesium, iron and B vitamins. Through this initiative, FishFAD is working with a local food that is already eaten in Pacific Island nations to develop and package new products for these communities. As an open-water, or pelagic, fish, tuna and its fisheries do not deplete the islands’ more sensitive coral reef fisheries and are more robust to fishing effort. These sustainable, revenue-generating tuna products are often marketed to urban markets in population centers. The products may eventually be exported, but the project is starting with domestic markets. The manufacturing procedures have also been photographed and will become part of a visual guide for countries to replicate the techniques.

“The FishFAD project has been developed on really sound advice from experienced professionals with vast experience in the region,” said Michael Savins, FishFAD Project Team Leader and Chief Technical Adviser. 

Developing tuna products incorporates goal three of the project’s four main components: 1) Strengthening and developing community nearshore FAD programmes to provide improved access to high-value species, 2) Structuring and strengthening fishers’ associations and cooperatives, 3) Developing livelihood opportunities and revenue-generating activities and products, and 4) Improving safety at sea for fishers of nearshore FADs. 

The FishFAD project which includes this tuna products initiative, is implemented in seven Pacific Island countries: Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tuvalu. The project began in May 2019 after a regional meeting with small-scale tuna fisheries experts was held in October 2018 and an experience-sharing initiative between FAD fishers of the Pacific and Caribbean took place. 

The FAO Sub-regional Office for the Pacific Islands is implementing the three-year FishFAD project, which the Government of Japan is funding.