The Trouble With Tuna – Are the biggest tuna brands breaking sustainability promises?

Fishing industries and seafood companies are not new to the scandal headlines whether its unsustainable practices, overfishing or destructive methods, stories such as those surrounding tuna fishing announced this week are not much of a revelation.

This week Greenpeace released its latest league table for supermarket sold tuna to draw attention to “Which tuna brands are worst for people, planet and oceans”. Top of the bad practice lists were two of the UK’s biggest tuna brands; John West and Princes. Now the companies are accused of misleading customers and may be facing consumer backlash.

In 2011, John West pledged that its tuna would be 100% sustainable by 2016 but according to Greenpeace, John West sells only 2% sustainably caught tuna due to wide spread destructive and wasteful fishing methods. Practices used by the company are known as fish aggregation devices (FADs) and refer to large netting methods which capture a vast range of marine species including dolphins, sharks and turtles and results in 100,000 tonnes of bycatch each year.

Tuna shoal in a fishing aggregate device (Photo Credit: Corbis)

Tuna shoal in a fishing aggregation device (Photo Credit: Corbis)

Alongside the league table Greenpeace has also released footage filmed on tuna boats which show a wide variety of these other species entangled in nets of thrown out of the conveyor belts by fishermen to die on ship decks.

Though John West has not publicly announced any change of policy or retraction of it’s sustainable tuna targets a company spokesman speaking with The Times newspaper claimed that since the original promise was made the supply of pole and line-caught tuna (a sustainable fishing practice) had dropped and there was “no longer enough pole-and-line tuna available to meet global demand”.

Princes doesn’t do much better in the tables having with just 25% of their tuna sustainably caught and the company similarly relying heavily on these netting methods and therefore missing their own 100% sustainable target set for this year.

Greenpeace have lauched their #JustTuna Campaign (Photo Credit: GreenpeaceUK)

Greenpeace have lauched their #JustTuna Campaign (Photo Credit: GreenpeaceUK)

Perhaps surprisingly the best brands in the league are all supermarket’s own with Waitrose, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury’s holding the top three spots and committed to sustainable and targeted pole and line fishing.

Greenpeace along with other ocean activist have already called on consumers to take action and, similar to past campaigns, notably in the 1980s, to boycott tuna brands which follow destructive practices.


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Kirstin McEwan
Current Wildlife Conservation Masters student and former Environmental Stewardship graduate with interests in wildlife conservation and science communication

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