Princes is sending out an automated response to anyone emailing the company asking them to stop using fishing methods that kill sharks, turtles, dolphins and other fish in order to fill their cans with tuna. I've taken the letter apart to explain what their response really means. But the bottom line is they are still as bad as we thought.
If Princes did have "a serious and genuine commitment to improving sustainability", they'd offer more than just this long response. They'd follow other tinned tuna companies and clean up their practises.
Here Princes admits that bycatch is a problem for the environment. If they knew this you have to wonder how they had the gall to label their tuna tins with a statement saying, "Princes is fully committed to fishing methods which protect the marine environment and marine life."
That aside - and since they've now pledged to ditch their false labels after pressure from many Greenpeace supporters in the UK - let's concentrate on how they're trying to muddy the waters.
They've tried to imply bycatch is a problem that arises from "all fishing methods." In reality some fishing methods are a lot worse than others. When it comes to fishing for the tuna that goes in your tins, purse seining with FADs - the method that is used for the majority of Princes' tinned tuna - is the worst of them all for the wider marine environment. In contrast the fishing methods used by some of Princes competitors - like Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose - are much more environmentally friendly and massively reduce the extent of sharks, other fish, turtles and baby tuna that get caught 'accidentally'.
Absolutely there needs to be a 'joined-up approach' to clean up the global tuna industry. That's why we're campaigning for the establishment of marine reserves, regulation that ensures fish are only taken from stocks that are in good shape, and to elimination of the most environmentally destructive fishing methods like purse seining with Fads.
But 'joined up' should not be an excuse for inaction. Princes is a major seller of tinned tuna and should be leading rather than holding back the herd. Princes offer only weak statements on marine reserves, they take from stocks that are overfished (and even stock species that the IUCN says are at risk of extinction like bigeye tuna) and their fishermen catch almost all their tuna using the most environmentally destructive fishing method available to them.
A large majority of the world's tinned tuna is sold by ISSF members. Obviously bringing together that much of the world's tinned tuna trade under one umbrella has huge potential for good. And the ISSF (which focuses on tuna, despite the broader remit suggested by its title) has been making some positive noises. They have said some encouraging things in particular about some threatened tuna stocks. The ISSF is also funding some much-needed scientific research, which everyone welcomes.
But the sad truth is that this in itself doesn't amount to much. Even the best scientific research should not be used simply as a delay tactic to dealing with the obvious problems that we already know about. Above all, what ISSF is not tackling yet is the problem of FAD use leading to shameful amount of bycatch. And the ISSF has publicly admitted that purse seine fishing on FADs has the greatest bycatch of any method commonly used in the tinned tuna industry.
The ISSF's raison d'etre should be cleaning up the industry, not encouraging the status quo. In a meeting with the ISSF last year, they told us that they were "not an organisation that is out to radically change the industry" but that they "feel it's important to show progress". So it seems pretty clear then that the ISSF is pretty preoccupied with generating good PR.
Oh dear, Princes still don't seem to understand the purpose of our campaign. We are campaigning against the fishing method of purse seining with FADs because it leads to a high bycatch of sharks, juvenile tuna, turtles, rays and other marine wildlife. As well as this, we need to see the establishment of marine reserves to help fish stocks and ocean ecosystems recover from high levels of exploitation.
Pole and line fishing - which itself must be conducted at sustainable levels - is a less destructive alternative method for catching tuna. But purse seining without FADs can also reduce levels of bycatch by up to 90 percent.
Princes may source some tuna caught using pole and line. However, it is not separated out, not clearly labelled, and Princes certainly don't offer a pole and line range.
Lets be clear: pole and line tuna fishing leads to far less bycatch than purse seining with FADs; and purse seining without FADs is far better than purse seining with FADs.
So in the hierarchy of sustainability, Princes choose to mainly source from the very worst option. As we've said before, we're not against purse-seining per se.
Of course, pole and line fishing - where it is pursued as an alternative means of catching tuna - must be kept within sustainable limits. But it is plainly wrong of Princes to try to equate catching bait fish with the mass capture of endangered species, or to suggest that pole and line fishing is somehow on a par with purse seining with FADs.
If you compare this statement on marine reserves to the sort of support for them shown by other companies, it will be as obvious to you as it is to us that Princes are offering only a weak, mealy-mouthed position.
Clearly this is a good move but it's far from enough. Other companies like Sainsbury's in the UK are 100 percent pole and line, and rival supermarket Tesco are seeking to catch up too. It's time Princes followed suit by ditching their ties with the worst tuna fishing method.
Well this is certainly an improvement on labelling that is downright misleading - which was Princes' practice until very recently. Again Princes are trailing behind their rivals. Princes should be labelling by species, origin and catch method of their tuna like many of their competitors already do. This way consumers can have the choice to buy a more environmentally friendly product. Right now, all they can do is avoid Princes and buy from more responsible companies.
Obviously, industry support for the establishment of no-take marine reserves is a good thing - even if the support is small scale. But this move makes you wonder why Princes overall position on marine reserves is so weak.