DW HQ action Korea

Originally posted on Greenpeace International, June 11, 2013.

On Monday morning in Seoul, Greenpeace Korea held the 'Worst Tuna Brand Awards' to highlight the wasteful and destructive fishing methods used to fill the cans of tuna lining Korea's supermarket shelves. This year's winner, making them the canned tuna producer with the worst environmental record in Korea, is giant seafood company Dongwon.

To highlight their reliance on wasteful and destructive fishing our activists visited their head office to present the company's management with a special trophy shaped like a large fish bone and to demand that they start working to improve their fishing practices.

Our work in Korea is part of a much larger international campaign being run by Greenpeace to highlight the often wasteful and destructive methods used to catch the tuna that fill our cans. A particular problem is the use of Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) with purse seine nets that encircle and trap not just tuna fish but also the many other species that gather in the water around the FAD, such as sharks, rays, turtles and juvenile tuna. Greenpeace has been encouraging retailers and brands around the world to drop the use of purse seines and FADs in favour of more sustainable fishing practices like free-school or pole and line caught tuna.

This campaigning has proved very successful, not least because of the growing concern about destructive fishing by consumers of tinned tuna around the world. In response to these concerns, many of the world's biggest tinned tuna brands like Princes, John West, Sealord and major retailers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have already agreed to phase out the use of FADs and purse seines. Now it is time for Korea's major tinned tuna brands to respond to the changes sweeping across the international market.

Dongwon were awarded our fish bone trophy this year because they came last in our ranking of Korean tinned tuna following our detailed survey of the different brands available in Korea. The results of this survey show that there is no sustainable canned tuna currently available in the country. Dongwon, a leading brand which accounts for 70% of the canned tuna market in Korea ranked the lowest – Red Category – among three brands.

Recently, the company's vessels were found to conduct illegal fishing on the high seas of Africa and it has further increased its fishing capacity by building a new purse seiner. It is still overfishing already heavily exploited species like big eye tuna and southern blue-fin tuna (for its sashimi product lines). For these reasons, Dongwon got lower scores than other brands in the ranking.  

With growing numbers of consumers around the world successfully demanding that brands and retailers clean up their fishing operations to make their products sustainable, the pressure is on Korea's major tinned tuna brands to respond and provide such products for their consumers. If they make positive changes this year, maybe next year Greenpeace activists can deliver an award to celebrate the first sustainable tinned product in Korea? The task ahead for Korea's tinned tuna companies over the next 12 months could not be clearer.

Jeonghee Han is an Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Korea.