* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Washington, DC/Rome, 5 November 2013 - Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO Naoko Ishii today approved a project coordinated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve the health and sustainability of tuna fisheries worldwide by reducing illegal catch and supporting related marine ecosystems and species. The GEF, an international institution uniting 183 countries to address global environmental issues and support sustainable development, approved funding for the implementation phase of the multi-partner project coordinated by FAO which aims to improve management of tuna fisheries on the high seas and conserve biodiversity of related marine ecosystems and species. It will reduce illegal catches of the far-ranging, highly-prized and globally consumed fish. "Today's decision sets the stage for action on a global scale that will address both an economic and environmental threat to one of the world's most important commercial fish species," Ishii said. "I am pleased that we are able to bring together both public and private partners in this project, which give us a fighting chance to work on a scale sufficient to reverse negative trends threatening the global tuna fishery and the ocean environment that sustains it." To date, $30 million in GEF grants has leveraged more than $150 million of co-financing in support of the project, which forms part of a broader multi-stakeholder initiative working to ensure that these precious resources are harvested in a sustainable way. The global tuna project on fisheries management and biodiversity conservation-set to run from 2013 through 2018 builds on and complements the work of the five tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (t-RFMOs) and brings together a wide group of stakeholders to work on three key fronts: Fostering more sustainable and efficient fisheries management and wider uptake of best fishing practices. Reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through strengthened monitoring, control and surveillance. Reducing ecosystem impacts from fishing, including unintended and excessive "bycatch" of non-targeted marine life. The project aims to catalyze actions across and between t-RFMOs and the partners and contribute in particular to recovering lost wealth associated with IUU fishing. "High-seas fisheries support the food security and livelihoods of millions of people worldwide," said Árni M. Mathiesen, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture. "Through collective action at all levels and broad cooperation that optimizes the use of scarce resources, this project - and the wider Common Oceans initiative - will help move the world away from ‘the race to fish' and towards implementation of an ecosystem approach. This is crucial to ensuring the future well-being and productivity of these vital marine ecosystems. Early successes will create incentives for donors and agencies to further invest in these types of catalytic projects." WWF-US is one of a number of key players that are partnering with FAO, including the five t-RFMOs, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), BirdLife International, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The private tuna sector, including members of the fish harvesting and processing industries, is also a key partner, and fully supports the initiative. Catalyzing improvements in tuna fisheries Tunas and tuna-like species make up the most valuable fishery resource caught in the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). Highly migratory tuna account for about 20 percent of the value of all marine capture fisheries - catches of the most important tuna species are alone worth over $10 billion annually. Around 5.4 million tonnes are landed each year, with over 85 countries harvesting tuna in commercial quantities. Capture levels are highest in the Pacific Ocean, followed by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. FAO estimates that about one third of the world's seven major tuna species are currently overexploited. Given continued strong consumer demand for products like sashimi and canned tuna, combined with overcapacity of fishing fleets, the status of tuna stocks is likely to deteriorate further if fisheries management is not improved. "By transforming the way we manage global fisheries like tuna, we are ensuring a sustainable source of seafood that can help support a seven-billion-person planet while conserving nature," said Michele Kuruc, WWF-US vice president for marine conservation. "By harnessing the power of government, fisheries management organizations, civil society and the private sector, this innovative partnership can deliver meaningful change on the water and throughout communities around the world." A broad net The broader Common Oceans ABNJ program is made up of four inter-related projects that bring together governments, regional fisheries management bodies, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to work together towards the sustainable use and conservation of high seas ecosystems. In addition to the tuna project, the other projects include more sustainable use of deep-sea living resources and ecosystems, strengthening global capacity to manage ABNJ and oceans partnerships which will develop business plans to promote investment in long-term, sustainable fisheries management. Key partners in the program include FAO; the World Bank; the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); Conservation International (CI); the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); the WWF-US and the Global Oceans Forum. GEF has committed $50 million in support of the program, leveraging an additional $270 million of co-financing. * The five tuna-RFMOs are: IATTC - The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission; ICCAT - The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas; IOTC - The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission is an intergovernmental organization established under Article XIV of the FAO constitution; CCSBT - The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna and WCPFC - The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.