Greenpeace is running a long-term global campaign to make the tuna industry sustainable, to reverse the decline of key tuna populations and stop the wasteful killing of millions of sharks, rays, turtles and other marine species which are currently caught as bycatch due to destructive tuna fishing practices still used by fishing operations.

Greenpeace is engaged in a serious dialogue with a growing number of tuna companies around the world, including many of the founding members of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), and these companies are starting to deliver huge change. Many progressive companies, including some of the largest retailers and brands in the world, are now implementing well-designed and far-reaching sustainability polices which means change is taking place where it matters – out in the waters of our oceans.

John West and Princes, two of the leading tinned tuna brands in the UK (and both members of the ISSF) are an example of this. They have now committed to sourcing 100 percent pole and line or Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) free tuna by 2016 and 2014 respectively. Safeway, one of the largest retailers in the US, has just last week committed to change its own-brand tuna to sustainable sources. This tuna will be supplied by Tri Marine, a founding member of the ISSF and one of the world’s largest tuna traders. Dialogue with many others companies around the world is also progressing well.  2012 is set to be a ground shifting year for the tuna industry as more and more players adopt sustainable practices.

Pole and line fishing operation in the Pacific Ocean

Greenpeace cooperates with other groups, scientists and governments as well as industry in our work to defend our oceans. We are members of the High Seas Alliance, a group of advocacy organizations working to protect international waters. We are part of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, through which campaigning groups collaborate to save our deepest and most fragile seas. We attend key political fora concerned  with ocean conservation and tuna fisheries and also regularly attend tuna industry gatherings as invited speakers. We also regularly work with governments to enforce regulations at sea. Just this past December, Greenpeace’s ship Esperanza joined with the Republic of Palau in fisheries enforcement patrols and helped investigate violations of regulations at sea. In 2009, the Cook Islands government publicly thanked Greenpeace for helping to patrol their waters for illegal fishing.

Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven with representatives from retailers Saisburys and Marks & Spencer in January 2011

Why Greenpeace won’t be joining the ISSF’s meeting in Guam.

The ISSF is dominated by the tuna companies which created it, who form its current membership and in some cases help run it. This has made the ISSF resistant to the changes which Greenpeace and many scientists propose and that an increasingly large number of progressive tuna companies are now delivering.

Greenpeace fully recognises the importance of scientific debate but the ISSF’s Environmental Stakeholder Committee is not the best place to have this discussion. The ISSF’s pro-industry positions, including opposing a ban on destructive Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in purse seine fisheries make its stakeholder committee an unsuitable body for debating and discussing tuna fisheries science.

Unbiased science is central to managing tuna fisheries and for this reason Greenpeace is and always has been committed to discussing the latest research. For some time, we have made clear to the ISSF that we are committed to debating the science in an independent meeting consisting of the ISSF, environmental campaign groups and most importantly, independent scientists.

The tuna fisheries meeting in Guam

The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, will take place in Guam between the 26th and 30th March this year, where the future of Pacific tuna fisheries will be decided. The measures closing the ‘Pacific Commons’ marine reserve areas to tuna fishing will be revisited and will decide their future. Our team in Guam will be focusing on the work necessary to achieve the strongest possible outcomes from this meeting, including a total ban on the use of destructive and wasteful FADs in purse seine fisheries and the extension of the Pacific Commons purse seine ban to all fishing (both of which are currently opposed by the ISSF). We are confident that our time at the meeting – enabled with the funding of our supporters - will be better spent working to defend our oceans and the future of the fishing industry than attending the ISSF meeting.

Greenpeace has previously politely declined to join the ISSF’s Environmental Stakeholder Committee. You can read our reasons for not joining here.

You can follow our international campaign to make tuna fishing sustainable here

Oliver Knowles is  Greenpeace International oceans campaigner based in London.