During the time that I've spent working for Greenpeace, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some amazing positive movement in the US seafood sector.
Major retailers like Target and Costco have adopted new policies that are making an impact on both the industry and on the planet. Companies like Safeway and Wegmans have taken progressive, public stands on important political and environmental issues like marine reserves and Antarctic protection measures.
Many other companies, such as Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart have dropped unsustainable species from their inventory in favor of more responsible seafood products. In fact, over the last four years, ten of the retailers analyzed in Greenpeace USA’s Carting Away the Oceans report have discontinued orange roughy, a bottom-dwelling species that is simply unfit – due to a combination of mismanagement and the fish’s own life history – to support an industrialized fishery of any size.
This is real progress.
The voices of American consumers, coupled with the emergence of sustainability champions within the retail industry, are having a profound effect on the way we fish and the way we shop. Still, change isn’t easy: not for consumers, and not for companies.
Even in the face of undeniable scientific evidence, some seafood companies – like Chicken of the Sea, for instance – continue to do everything they can to avoid discussing the real issues. This frustrates anyone who is aware of the reality of what is happening to our oceans, as the destructive actions of this company are harming our planet more and more with each passing hour.
It’s not just Greenpeace that’s taking issue with Chicken of the Sea and its stubborn refusal to stop trashing our oceans.
Not only have nearly 60,000 people signed a petition demanding that the company change its ways, but a member of the United States House of Representatives has called for a ban on fish aggregating devices (FAD's), and the New York Times has already predicted our campaign to be a success. Sadly, every day that Chicken of the Sea keeps stalling is another day that our oceans suffer. The company is perfectly capable of making the changes that US consumers are demanding – just look at what it has done in the United Kingdom.
Chicken of the Sea is a subsidiary of the massive multinational seafood corporation Thai Union Group, which also owns John West, a tuna brand in the UK. John West has already publicly pledged to transition to sustainable procurement methods, such as FAD-free purse seining and pole-and-line, and has provided metrics and time-bound milestones for doing so (although they are admittedly less ambitious than those of other UK tuna brands). Chicken of the Sea, however – a brand wholly owned by the very same company that has promised to provide sustainable tuna to the UK market – refuses to do the same for consumers in the United States.
Does Thai Union feel that American consumers don’t deserve sustainable tuna? Or perhaps the company is simply buying time, relying on the same boilerplate industry rhetoric that eventually failed them in the UK, until it is no longer feasible to tow that line in the United States? The bottom line is that Chicken of the Sea knows better and can do better, but is simply choosing not to do so – and our oceans are suffering because of it.
Image: Crew of the Taiwanese longliner Li Chyun No. 2, set 180 kilometers of longline in the Central Pacific. 09/22/2011 © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace