Our international campaign to clean up tinned tuna has had another victory!

After more than 51,000 emails, a lot of negotiation and some interesting stickering initiatives, John West is the last of the major UK players to shift to sustainable tuna.  This is a big deal when it comes to tuna as John West produce one-third of all tuna tins sold in the UK.

This move by John West will put even more pressure on tinned tuna companies like Clover Leaf in Canada and Sealord in New Zealand to abandon FADs and sign up to supporting the Pacific Commons marine reserves.

John West’s commitment to shift to Pole & Line and FAD-free fishing for all of their tuna in the UK means everyone in the UK Greenpeace Tinned Tuna League Table is now committed to stop using FADs (Fish Aggregation Devices) with purse seine nets, a combination responsible for needless levels of destruction in the world’s oceans. All UK retailers and brands are also committed to not sourcing tuna from marine reserves in the Pacific, collectively known as the Pacific Commons. The establishment of marine reserves in the Pacific and beyond means we can start to restore the health of these valuable stocks and ecosystems for future generations.

Tuna instinctively gather around FADs, but these oceanic minefields also attract the whole cast of Finding Nemo, including a host of species at risk of extinction such as threatened sharks, bigeye tuna, juvenile tuna and even turtles. Known collectively as bycatch, all of these creatures are then scooped up by the purse seine nets.  Using these indiscriminate FAD deathtraps kills enough bycatch to fill a billion tins every year. It’s the equivalent of every tenth tuna tin on supermarket shelves containing shark or other bycatch instead of tuna. By switching to FAD-free or pole & line fishing, as all major UK players have now committed to, bycatch from tuna fishing can be reduced by up to 90%.
Make it global!

New Zealand tuna brands must also stop getting their tuna from companies using this shameful and wasteful practice. Following our campaign here in New Zealand, Foodstuffs announced last month it will change most of its Pams range of canned tuna to FAD-free by the end of the year.

But Sealord, New Zealand’s largest tuna brand, is ignoring evidence of the damage caused by indiscriminate fishing and is showing no signs of cleaning up its act and following what’s happening in the UK or here.

According to statistics, supported and circulated by Sealord, bycatch of other species is five to 10 times more when purse seiners use FADs. This method also increases and the amount of juvenile and undersized tunas being caught to 15-20 per cent of the catch.

Most of New Zealand’s canned tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean. All Pacific tuna stocks are in decline, with bigeye and yellowfin the most at risk. Scientists have advised that fishing needs to be cut by up to 50 per cent to allow bigeye tuna to recover. Skipjack, the most common species used in canned products, is also under pressure.

John West’s journey in the UK may just be the start of a longer odyssey for their parent company. They are run by MW Brands who sell a number of big tuna brands throughout much of Europe with strong presence ofJohn West in Ireland and the Netherlands, plus Petite Navire in France and Mareblu in Italy. If they are serious about making their business truly sustainable then they should commit to move to FAD-free and Pole & Line fishing across all brands in their stable. Migratory tuna stocks don’t respect national boundaries, so MW Brands’ policies should apply across all their markets.

In turn, this should be taken up by MW Brands’ owners Thai Union, the world’s biggest seafood company. This is big business. Thai Union turnover is forecast to rise from less than $3billion now to $4billion by 2015, with MW Brands driving much of this increase. The recent UK market transformation, proves that large-scale change is possible by multinational corporations in this sector: Princes, the UK’s largest tuna brand, are owned by the massive Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi; Asda are owned by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer; whilst Tesco is the 3rd largest retailer globally.

These momentous shifts in the UK are very timely, as new scientific assessments show that many tuna stocks are judged to be at risk of extinction under extreme pressure from needlessly destructive fishing methods and overfishing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) scientists recently assessed five of the eight species of tuna to be in the Threatened or Near Threatened IUCN Red List Categories. These include: Southern Bluefin - Critically Endangered; Atlantic Bluefin - Endangered; Bigeye - Vulnerable; Yellowfin and Albacore – both Near Threatened.

Ultimately, what we have in our hands right now from most of these companies are effectively just words on a piece of paper. But as Neville Chamberlain would attest, it’s deeds not words that count when it comes to paper commitments. We are dealing with large, often multinational, corporations who have made clear, public commitments to change their tuna sourcing to sustainable methods, and we will hold them to their commitments!

Our focus will now move on from the tinned tuna league table to holding them to account on delivering these commitments, seeing change out in the oceans. We will be keeping you informed and asking for your help. We hope we can count on you in this next stage of the campaign as it unfolds. As John West’s own tuna conference tagline stated earlier this year ‘Action Today for Sustainable Tuna Tomorrow’.

The tuna army marches on, get involved!