Progress Made Towards Sustainable Tuna Fishing


By The Maritime Executive 04-23-2017 07:36:02

In its second canned tuna ranking, Greenpeace USA found that a number of U.S. retailers have made significant progress toward offering consumers more sustainable and ethical products. 

The tuna ranking evaluated the sourcing policies and practices of 20 brands, including whether the fishing method used to catch their tuna harms other marine life, whether they avoid shark finning and whether they can trace their products back to the sea. In addition, Greenpeace examined the equitability and social responsibility of tuna brands. 

Poor working conditions are systemic in the tuna industry, and in the worst cases, human rights violations and forced labor occur. Greenpeace’s Tuna Guide this year includes an increased focus on the treatment of workers in the rankings. The International Labour Organisation last month slammed the Thai Government for failing to address forced labor, human trafficking and murder in the fishing industry.

Retailers including Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, Giant Eagle, Albertsons, ALDI, Ahold Delhaize and Kroger have moved in the right direction on their own canned tuna. In this year’s ranking, Whole Foods joined Wild Planet, American Tuna and Ocean Naturals in the green category, identified as the best canned tuna choices for American consumers. Whole Foods recently made a commitment to sell only sustainable canned tuna nationwide by early 2018, setting the bar for all other U.S. retailers. Wild Planet and American Tuna tied for the top score in the ranking.
While retailers have made significant progress over the last two years, the big three tuna brands continue to fail on both sustainability and social responsibility, says Greenpeace. “Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist failed yet again, and have shown little improvement to their policies and practices. Chicken of the Sea, owned by global seafood giant Thai Union, ranked the highest of the three brands for its policy positions on sustainability and human rights, but the company must do more to show its suppliers are meeting those requirements,” says the organization. 

Walmart, along with retailers Target, Costco, SUPERVALU, Trader Joe’s, and H-E-B, failed this year’s ranking with inadequate or non-existent tuna policies and destructive products on store shelves. SUPERVALU shows promise with plans to improve its tuna policies and procurement. Walmart, on the other hand, recently released a canned tuna policy that maintains the status quo and continues to rely on unsustainable suppliers like Thai Union.

The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna in the world and the primary global market for albacore tuna, a species mostly caught by longlines. Longline fishing consists of multiple hooks hanging from a main line that can stretch for miles. The longline fishery is less regulated and can be highly destructive when measures are not employed to properly mitigate bycatch. 

Skipjack tuna, another common canned tuna species, is mainly caught by large purse seine nets set on fish aggregating devices (FADs). FADs are floating objects that attract tuna and other species. Setting on FADs results in higher bycatch rates, killing thousands of sharks, billfish and other non-target species. As consumers demand responsibly-caught tuna, the U.S. market is starting to shift toward best practice catch methods like pole and line, troll and FAD-free.

In Australia, Greenpeace is calling on Woolworths to drop Greenseas canned tuna from its shelves, following the release of its 2017 Tuna Guide. Greenseas is the only major Australian brand that has reneged on its commitment to stop using FADs, says Greenpeace.


The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.