Steven Adolf (The Hague, 1959) is a researcher on tuna, economist, journalist and writer. Currently he works as a senior editor and Spain correspondent for the Dutch business daily Het Financieele Dagblad, the magazine Elsevier and several radio broadcasters. In his latest book ‘Tuna Wars’ (Springer, 2019) he unravels the millennia long, untold story of large scale tuna fisheries and the current power struggles to make its industry sustainable.
Currently Steven Adolf is doing a PhD research on partnerships and governance of sustainable tuna fisheries and its impact on the tuna canning industry. The research is part of the BESTTuna investigation project at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
From its uncovered ancient past, until modern times, large scale tuna fisheries have always been at the center of boundless trade, fortune and powerful interests. After a Spanish monk in 18th century was the first to investigate concerns around its sustainability, tuna was at the heart of the development of fisheries science and management to maintain the stocks as a resource for future generations. Sustainability has become an increasingly important and useful marketing tool for the industry for the supply of tuna to the market. This development bears risks of increasingly non-committal sustainability claims and labels as well as cooperation between leading companies to use these claims for purposes far beyond the environmental concerns. Like in the ‘Flipper Wars’ were the three leading US canneries utilized a dolphin safe certificate to block the American markets for Mexican tuna imports and defend their market interests against an upcoming alternative sustainability label in the emerging block of tuna producing countries. The recent legal class action lawsuits against these ‘Big Three’ for unfair competition, consumer fraud and conspiracy can put a price tag not only on non-committal sustainability claims, but also for the way the industry is working together to improve the sustainability. The effective bankruptcy of Bumble Bee proves that claims of conspiracy can come at a high price and even a shift in the global market. An important challenge in the tuna wars on sustainability to come, is to improve the commitment of the market with serious tools for the preservation of tuna and its environment, avoiding the pitfall of the use of these commitments in a way that might be considered as unfair competition.