Greenpeace UK has just launched a new tinned tuna sustainability ranking. On top of are Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer followed by Waitrose, three major retailers that have gone to great lengths to ensure that tuna, sold in their own-brand tins, is as sustainable as possible.

They all source tuna from pole and line fisheries which are more selective and hence offer a more sustainable way of catching tuna. The more widely used method involves luring them with fish aggregation devices (FADs) and scooping them up indiscriminately with big purse seine nets, killing juvenile tuna. sharks, rays and other marine life in the process.

On Friday, global retail giant Tesco announced that it too would be shifting its entire range over to pole and line.

Ensuring sustainable fisheries is one part of achieving healthy oceans; the other is protecting larger areas of ocean in marine reserves that will include the protection of migratory species like tuna. But progress towards a global network of marine reserves has been too slow.

In the Pacific – where some of the most healthy tuna stocks remain – Greenpeace is fighting to close the international waters surrounding the Pacific Island States (‘Pacific Commons’)  to all tuna fishing as a step towards their establishment as the world’d first high seas marine reserve. This is a move that some fishing nations such as Korea, the US and Taiwan have been opposing in the past.

As part of their leadership on tinned tuna sustainability in the UK, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have pledged their support for the creation of the Pacific Commons marine reserves and have undertaken not to source any fish from the area in the meanwhile.  ASDA – the UK branch of Walmart – have also made the same pledge

Support by retailers, restaurants and tuna traders across the world is needed to ensure that the market dries up for tuna coming from the proposed closed areas. This will make it easier for the political negotiations to create marine reserves.

Whale shark caught by a purse seine net in the Pacific Ocean

I am currently in Taiwan on the Rainbow Warrior for our East Asia Ocean Defenders tour - rallying support for the creation of fully protected marine reserves in the Pacific. Taiwan has the largest tuna long-line fleets in the region and despite them recently agreeing to closing some high seas areas to purse seine fishing – they have not agreed to take their long liners out of these important conservation areas. The political steps to achieve full closures of the Pacific Commons including long-line fishing will be difficult.

On the other end of the ranking we have Princes, an international tuna brand that is a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). The ISSF has some 70 percent of the global tinned tuna trade as its membership. Their mission is to “undertake science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health”.

Some steps towards sustainability has been made with various ISSF brands such as Nirsa SA who are now reducing the amount of FADs they use. But, it's clear there is more talk than action going on with some of the ISSF members such as Princes. And not just talk but lies as Princes says on their tins in the UK “Princes is fully committed to fishing methods which protect the marine environment and its species” while they source tuna from fleets using FADs and purse seine nets for all their products. Princes are essentially responsible for masses of deaths of endangered sharks, endangered turtles, juvenile tunas and other threatened marine life. It seems it is not just time for Princes and other ISSF membership to straighten out their facts but to also walk the talk and start shifting to products caught with pole and line or with purse seine nets without FADs.

You can take action now by writing to Princes and demanding that they stop canning ocean destruction.

With 70 percent of the world’s tinned tuna industry behind such sustainability moves as well as the creation of the Pacific high seas marine reserves we could really start seeing some far reaching benefits and political momentum for our oceans.

-- Sari

Sari dives under a FAD in the Pacific. Around 10 percent of the catch generated by purse seine FAD fisheries is 'unwanted' bycatch © Greenpeace/ Paul Hilton