Supply Chains and Markets


QUICK FACTS | Sustainability | Production | Supply Chains | Environment, Climate |

                           | Biology | Selected Countries, AreasLink, Refs | Contributors, Revs |

Skipjack is canned, sold fresh, dried-salted and smoked. In addition to the harvesting operations, the tuna supply chain supports many post harvest jobs and companies. Indirectly, tuna fishing benefits to the economy, including employment and fees from foreign fishing vessels, are significant and can be up to four times the value of the actual fish harvest (Ahmed et al, 2010). 

Post Harvest

[Image SKJ-008] Once caught, the skipjack may be transshipped to tender boats – refrigerated fish carriers or reefers that, basically, are trucks-at-sea to carry the catch to the canneries ashore. This facility enables the seiners to keep on fishing, and also creates efficiencies by separating the fishing roles of capture and transport. Transshipments must be monitored by observers, and as a rule, RFMOs prohibit transshipping at sea – although exceptions are permitted in archipelagic and territorial waters of some member countries of the WCPFC. Transshipping regulations are one of the measures for stamping out illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity.


At the cannery, tuna are pressure-cooked, then sorted, gutted, finned, skinned, and de-boned. The flesh is then either placed into vacuum-sealed packages (‘pouche’) and dispatched to (usually) western processors for further processing, or packed into cans into which vegetable oil (or brine) and sometimes flavourings are added, before the cans are sealed and re-cooked, then labeled for sale.

[Image SKJ-???] Skipjack from the Western and Central Pacific and Indian oceans is canned in factories in Thailand, Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya, India (in the Indian Ocean) and Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, American Samoa, Ecuador (in the Pacific Ocean). Product from these oceans is also canned in Spain, Germany and Venezuela. Higher grade skipjack is sold as ‘light-meat tuna’ mainly in Europe, the US and Australia/New Zealand (Miyake et al, 2010, Hamilton et al, 2011).

Thailand is the world leader in canned tuna production, including skipjack. Most of the Thai canned skipjack is purchased from catches outside Thai waters, including especially from catches in other Asia-Pacific countries. Philippines and the USA are second and third in terms of amount of skipjack canned (Hamilton et al., 2011).

Papua New Guinea is an important supplier of skipjack pouches to the Spanish and German canneries. The number of canneries in Papua New Guinea has increased since the RD Tuna cannery was established in 1977: six canneries now are built or planned (Lae, Madang, Wewak), to eventually employ more than 15,000 people (PNG National Fisheries Authority, pers comm.).

For small island economies such as American Samoa, the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, expansion of canning is constrained by weak infrastructure (poor harbour and land development, lack of investment capital) and high import costs for inputs such as canning materials. One example is Papua New Guinea’s canned tuna industry which has to compete in a sector with low-margins, high product volumes and strong retail market pressure to reduce prices (Hamilton et al, 2011).

Salted and Dried Products

Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries, produce commercial and artisanal dried and salted skipjack products – such as katsuobushi (Japan), hikimas (Maldives, Lacshadeep islands, India), Maldive Fish (Maldives), balaya (Sri Lanka). Katsuobushi is made of flakes or shavings of dried and smoked skipjack (bonito) tuna, and used widely in Japanese cooking as a condiment and as a key ingredient in soup broths (dashi) and sauces. [Image SKJ-005, SKJ-006]]

Sashimi and Other Products

Skipjack is also sold fresh or frozen. Some pole-and-line fleets have established a sashimi market for high-quality frozen skipjack in recent years, particularly targeting consumers in the Pacific countries (Miyake et al, 2010).

Common Market Names

Skipjack is known by many local common names (e.g., see FishBase – – for lists) but, due to its large global market, is usually known at also country level as “skipjack” or “skipjack tuna.”

Nutritional Value

Skipjack is low in fat, especially saturated fat and in sodium. Skipjack tuna is a very good source of protein and selenium. It has medium levels of cholesterol (compared to shellfish, red meat and animal products such as eggs) but no information is available on the breakdown of cholesterol into HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) types.

Per 100 g of raw product, skipjack contains approximately:


418 (100 calories)

Protein 22 g
Cholesterol 47 mg
Sodium 37 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Total fat (oil) 0.4 g
Saturated fat 36.7 %
Monounsaturated fat 14.1%
Polyunsaturated fat 49.2%
Omega 3 EPA 13 mg
Omega 3 DHA 96 mg
Omega 6 AA 15 mg

 Sources: Mooney, et al. (2002) for fat (oil) content of Australian fish, other figures from NOAA FishWatch for eastern Pacific skipjack.

Trade and Markets

In the Asia-Pacific region, skipjack is a major food commodity of political and economic importance due to the large volume harvested, its high share of global skipjack production, its value and international fishing and market access arrangements that have impacts on and beyond fisheries. Prices of frozen skipjack for canning are comparable throughout the world because the raw material varies little with season, area and size, most of it is canned, and it has few competitors (Miyake et al., 2010).

About 90% of the Asia-Pacific skipjack catch is canned. The main costs in the skipjack canned fish supply chain: are purchase of tuna, capital investments, labour costs, freight costs, licence fees and fuel costs (Barclay & Cartwright, 2007). In the final price of canned tuna, the purchase of fish costs 39-48%, price of can 17-20%, labour costs 6-8%, sea freight 5-6%, by-product sales -2%, utilities 6-8%, fixed overheads 5-6%, brine/oil filling 1-5%, cardboard sleeves and outer cases 3% and marketing 3-4% (Campling & Doherty, 2007).

Skipjack and other tunas are the subjects of several international market access and trade preference agreements.

The world’s largest canned tuna market is the USA but its consumer demand has declined due to changing product lines, consumer preferences and lower quality raw material from yellowfin and skipjack caught on associated-FAD fishing. Many of the big USA brands of canned tuna require ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna (Hamilton et al, 2011) as a result of USA actions and legislation that began in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in the 1980s.

For the EU market, eligible Pacific Island States use the EU Lomé/Cotonou Agreement trade preference designed to help the countries attract foreign direct investment, create employment and stimulate the economies (Campling et al, 2007). It enables access to EU markets for tuna products. Pacific island and Indian Ocean countries also have other forms of preferential market access available under the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) and the EU-Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that enables eligible countries meet EU “rules of origin” requirements (Hamilton et al, 2011, Havice & Reed, 2012).

The UK canned tuna market, especially the large retailers, has been targeted by some environmental groups that advocate sales of products that come only from sustainable sources, defined by these groups to be from pole-and-line and FAD-free fisheries. Several major retailers have changed or intend to change the sourcing policies for own-brand canned tuna (Pala, 2011).

In addition to large markets for skipjack in Europe and the United States, canned skipjack is eaten also across the Western and Central Pacific. In the Western and Central Pacific, fresh skipjack is very popular in Polynesia (e.g. in French Polynesia from the specialist ‘bonitier’ fishery); and is well-liked in much of Micronesia. In Melanesia, most consumption of skipjack is limited to the urban centres or communities close to canneries where smaller-sized skipjack are unloaded from industrial vessels and sold or traded for local consumption.

Employment, Social Factors and Gender

The skipjack tuna fishery is a very significant employer in fishing and processing operations. It provides tens of thousands of jobs in the Asia-Pacific region – including for women. In 2008 in the Western and Central Pacific, nearly 10 times as many local jobs were in shore-based processing (about 11,000) compared to local jobs on tuna vessels (Bell et al., 2009, Bell et al, 2011). Total employment on all vessels, enterprises and from all countries, however, is not available.

To keep labour costs low, many canneries have been developed near areas of labour supply in low-cost Pacific and Indian Ocean Island States (Campling & Doherty, 2007). These are also close to the tuna stocks through fishing access agreements to EEZs and port facilities for transshipment. In the case of Thailand, labour costs are reduced by bringing in low cost immigrant labour from, for example, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

[Image SKJ-003 or SKJ-004] The skipjack fishery benefits people all over the world but is particularly important to people in the Pacific region, parts of Asia and to coastal communities in the Indian Ocean because it provides high-protein food, income and employment. More significantly, tuna will need to provide much of the additional fish for food security as the populations of the Pacific grow (Bell et al., 2011).

Because of the scale and importance of the skipjack and other tuna fisheries, focus has been almost solely on the direct benefits. Recently, however, attention has also turned to the conditions for workers on vessels and in canneries and the impacts on the environment. Skipjack products supply a highly competitive global market, creating strong incentives to keep supply chain costs low. At the present state of knowledge, the existence of serious problems in the treatment of crew on vessels and of workers in canneries is apparent from documented cases, but the prevalence of these problems is unknown.

In tuna science and management in selected Pacific island countries (Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Tonga), (Tuara and Passfield, 2011) found more men were employed than women. Women made up 18% of staff in government fisheries agencies, environmental institutions and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs). When fishing vessel observers were removed from the statistics, women’s participation increased to 25%. However, women comprised more than 60% of those in administrative and clerical jobs in government agencies


Market pressures create conditions in which some fishing vessels are operated unsafely, fishing operations circumvent regulations and do not comply with relevant UN and ILO standards. At the worst, cases have been documented in the Asia-Pacific of illegal fishing vessels operated outside laws and social norms, using forced labour and abandoning crew in foreign ports. Some crew sexually abused children during port visits and fellow crew at sea, and used prostitutes in port (de Coning, 2011).

Almost all at-sea workers on vessels catching skipjack are males, and some boys (under 18 years). In Fiji in 2001, only 3% of people in the harvesting sector were women (Tuara Demmke, 2006). Many crew members on vessels from higher income countries, e.g., Japan, USA, Taiwan and Thailand, are workers from low-wage countries.

In the environmental campaigns that promote tuna pole-and-line fishing and oppose purse seine and associated-FAD fishing, several social as well as environment benefits of pole-and-line have been mentioned, such as that it offers enhanced employment opportunities for local crews because eight to nine times more labour is needed to catch a ton of tuna, and that it is fun and exciting for the fishers (Gillett, 2011). However, the promotion of social and environment benefits has not resulted in large new investments or revitalization except in the Maldives (Gillett, 2011), likely due to its complexity and unprofitability. Fishing for bait fish for the pole and line fishery may also interact with other local fisheries for human food.

Processing Facilities

Canneries and loining factories have become the most major employers in tuna supply chains. Most are now located in developing countries where labour costs are lower, although lower labour productivity partly offsets this (Hamilton et al., 2011). Women form a major share of the cannery workforces, especially in the Pacific, although they are rarely in supervisor and management positions. Up to date statistics on the numbers of employees and the breakdown by gender, however, are not available. In Thailand tuna processing plants migrant workers are engaged, including underage women and men (de Coning, 2011).

Among the unskilled workers who form the majority, men undertake the loading and other more physically-demanding tasks, and women work primarily on the processing lines. Canneries prefer to engage women processors because they are considered more deft than are men at cleaning and cutting the fish, and they accept (i.e. are paid) lower wages than men. All work long hours, have little job security (Sullivan, 2011). Workplace hazards and high risk work cause many health issues (Jeebhay et al., 2004). In some countries, workers cannot join or form trade unions and have little legal protection.

Industrial tuna processing affects different groups of people in distinct ways. Whereas the economic opportunities of the industry are recognised, employees’ expectations of good jobs and wages, education, roads, medical services and certain material goods often are not realised. Furthermore, communities’ well-being and societies may be negatively affected by losing the informal household and community support efforts of the cannery workers (Tuara Demmke, 2006; Parriss, 2010; Havice & Reed, 2012).

However, new industry accreditation schemes for social accountability may lead to addressing issues such as fair working hours and conditions, and workers income, job security, and freedom to form associations.


One response to “Supply Chains and Markets

  1. Pingback: Sneak Preview of Skipjack Tuna | AsiaPacific-FishWatch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s