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Tuna - Sustainability, Fairness and the Future

   School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society

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  Dr Andrew Johnson, Dr Michael Bell, Dr Ingrid Kelling  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


The global tuna market is worth approximately $40 billion annually and tuna product sales are estimated to make up nearly 30% of total global seafood trade. Tuna products range from inexpensive canned products through to million-dollar sushi and sashimi quality whole fish. Alongside their importance for humans, tuna play a critical role in temperate and tropical oceanic ecosystems globally. The popularity and high demand of tuna over the last 30 years has, however, led to significant depletions of tuna stocks globally. Governments and RFMOs have been forced to prioritise tuna management, particularly for high valued tuna species. This has been driven by pressure from NGOs and markets concerned about the current sustainability practices. Due to the highly migratory nature of tuna species which do not recognise human-made boundaries, RFMOs regulate regional fishing activities within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal states and in high seas areas beyond national jurisdictions (200 nautical miles). One RFMO that has gained considerable attention in recent years is the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). The IOTC’s functions and responsibilities include:

“having due regard to the need to ensure the equitable participation of Members of the Commission in the fisheries and the special interests and needs of Members in the region that are developing countries” and “to keep under review the economic and social aspects of the fisheries based on the stocks covered by the Agreement bearing in mind, in particular, the interests of developing coastal States”.

Many Indian Ocean coastal states and major players in the seafood industry feel that the IOTC is not living up to expectation, with catches of tuna estimated to be largely unsustainable, particularly those of yellowfin. There is no well-established quota allocation system used by the IOTC. Resolution 21-01 is the closest that exists. Overall, allocation, decisions on catch reductions and management in general is deemed unfair, particularly considering large shares of quota that go to fleets from countries outside of the Indian Ocean. The use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in Indian Ocean tuna fisheries are also associated with high levels of bycatch of juvenile tuna and non-target species such as turtles and sharks. FADs are also a persistent source of coastal pollution when they are lost or discarded and wash-up in pristine coastal habitats.

The proposed research will evaluate the IOTC’s actions over the last 25 years and evaluate how well they are truly aligned with their objectives, key functions, and responsibilities. The research will address some of the following (TBD with the successful candidate):

Quantitatively evaluate the historic landings in relation to coastal state consumptions of fish, the reliance of national economies on fisheries, and the fisheries infrastructure within coastal states, that in many cases limits opportunities (e.g. under-developed fisheries that cannot travel far offshore to exploit high-seas stocks).

Estimate the proportions of tuna catch and bycatch that comes from anchored (coastal) versus floating (offshore) FADs and where these catches occur (inside versus outside coastal state EEZs).

Formulate different models of commercial tuna catches in the Indian Ocean comparing current approaches, to different gear-specific models (purse-seine only, long-line only and pole and line only, along with different proportions of each).

All the above packages will be presented through a comparative lens that looks at other RFMO management approaches – in particular tuna management in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

This PhD will support positive change in global tuna fisheries and impact the livelihoods of coastal states most in need of sustainable fisheries exploitation.


To apply, please complete the online application form. Please select PhD program Marine Biology and include the full project title, reference number (EGIS2022-AJ) and supervisor name (Andrew Johnson) on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as ‘required’ are complete.

You must complete the section marked project proposal; upload a supporting statement documenting your reasons for applying to this PhD project, and why you are an ideal candidate for the position. You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate/s and relevant transcripts. You may also upload an academic reference to further support your application.

You must provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Applications must be submitted by 12h00 BST on the 28th February, 2022. Interviews will be conducted online, and the successful candidate will be expected to start in May 2022.

Candidates are invited to contact the lead supervisor for an informal discussion by emailing [Email Address Removed].


The successful candidate will have an undergraduate degree and MSc (distinction or equivalent) in the fields of Fisheries Science, Marine Conservation, Economics or related fields. Evidence of prior independent research, publications and competent use and quantitative analysis in R or similar program is essential. Previous work experience in the seafood industry would be an advantage but not essential. The successful candidate will be highly self-motivated and confident enough to seek out solutions beyond the current team if required. They will embrace new challenges and environments and be able to fit into new teams rapidly. We are keen on building a diverse, collaborative team with unique skillsets, so even if the above eligibility is different to your own experience, but you feel suited to the role, feel free to contact Dr Johnson to discuss further – [Email Address Removed].

Funding Notes

Scholarships will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £15,609 for the 36 month duration of the project and is available to applicants from the UK, EU and overseas.
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