giorgia monti

Giorgia Monti, Greenpeace Italy oceans campaigner

Italy is one of the biggest markets for canned tuna in Europe, with more than 140.000 tons sold every year.  The reality is that few consumers actually know what species of tuna they buy for their meal every day. In recent weeks, Greenpeace volunteers have been working in 70 cities throughout Italy checking the labels on more than 2000 tins of the most popular brands sold in 170 retail locations. The results were made public last week in a Greenpeace Italy report "The secrets of tuna: what is hidden in a tin?" What our volunteers found was not surprising, but also very troubling. Only half of the tins we found actually give the common tuna name on the can, even fewer the scientific name, only 7% of the surveyed products reveal the area from which the fish was sourced, and only 3% the fishing method used to catch the fish.

One has to wonder why the tuna industry does not give this information to consumers? What do they have to hide?

Since the beginning of Greenpeace’s campaign to change the Italian tuna industry’s sourcing policies in 2010 with the launch of the tuna ranking “la Classifica Rompiscatole” (breaking cans) small steps have been taken by the main tuna brands sold here in Italy. So far there is not a 100% sustainable tinned tuna option on the shelves here  even though big steps have been taken abroad by major tuna companies as in the UK market. What are Italian companies waiting for?

Few companies have developed policies related to sustainable seafood procurement and none has committed to sell only responsibly-caught tuna. So far only the Italian brand AsdoMar offers sustainably-sourced pole and line caught skipjack tuna in 50% of its products.

Most of the industry uses purse seine fishing with FADs (Fish aggregation devices) to catch the tuna it uses in tins. FAD use is highly destructive, as nets set on FADs scoop up juvenile tuna, together with sharks, rays and  other sea life in their vicinity. Most tuna sold on the Italian market is yellowfin, a tuna species in crisis and among the most threatened by FAD fishing. If we keep using this fishing method we risk damaging tuna populations and the futures of those dependent on them for food and jobs. Some tuna brands still use longline fishing to catch tuna. In the Pacific, approximately 35% of the long-line catch consists of non-target species such as oceanic sharks and turtles.

Greenpeace’s ship Esperanza has been at sea for weeks now, confronting destructive fishing operations and confiscating decommissioned FADs in the Pacific Commons, an area Greenpeace is campaigning to be set aside as a fully-protected marine reserve.

We know that the tuna industry has many secrets, like the footage we uncovered a few weeks ago showing the wasteful and reckless ocean destruction that FAD fishing inherently causes.

Leaders need to show the way

Riomare, owned by global tuna leader Bolton, is the brand with the biggest market share, over 38% of the Italian tuna market, and with poor product labelling.  The only information given to consumers by Riomare is the common name of the tinned tuna (in 77% of products surveyed), but no fishing area or methods listed: all left secret. As Bolton committed to use sustainable fishing methods by 2012 in only 45% of their tins, it is clear that they want consumers to be unaware that half of their products could still contain unsustainable tuna. Mareblu, owned by MWB (Marine World Brands), the same company as UK tuna giant John West, also does not specify the fishing methods. They want to hide their double standards: they committed  100% sustainable tuna in the UK, but still use destructive fishing methods, like purse-seining with FADs, to fill in their Mareblu tins in Italy.  The Spanish brands MareAperto STAR, owned by Jealsa Rianxeira, e Nostromo, owned by Calvo, are among the worst, almost no information is on their tins. What are they hiding?

Our oceans can’t wait any longer for real change.  Italian companies have a huge stake in the global tuna industry as more than half of the tuna sold on the Italian market is produced directly in factories in Italy and they have strong buying power, purchasing whole frozen tuna or loins directly from fishing companies, and not tuna tins from other producers. We’re working here in Italy to get companies to adopt clear policies committing to use only tuna caught in most sustainable ways, such as as pole and line and FAD free purse seine fishing. We are sure that when they will do so they will be happy to tell consumers what is in their tins- with nothing left to hide.

Consumers in Italy can follow the campaign and tell what they think about the tuna industry with the poll “Dì la tua!” (tell me yours)

Giorgia Monti is an oceans campaigner based in Greenpeace Italy’s Rome office.