The news that European tuna and food giant Bolton is adopting a brand new, progressive tuna sourcing policy is another great example of how people power can help drive ocean-friendly momentum in a huge and complicated global industry.

Over the last eight years, people all over Europe have sent Bolton messages encouraging them to change the way they fish and improve their supply chains to help protect our oceans. In the first Italian tuna ranking back in 2011 Bolton was a laggard:  this week’s commitment is a sure sign that people, and individual action, can help change largely unheard of companies as well as the biggest industries.

Radio Beacon Attached to FAD © Pierre Baelen / Greenpeace

Greenpeace documents the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) in the Indian Ocean and campaigns to end the plunder of the world’s oceans.

Bolton sells brands of tuna that are well known in many parts of Europe and elsewhere – such as Rio Mare and Saupiquet. The changes they are announcing this week will have an important impact on our oceans. Among other steps, the company has committed to ensure that a full 50% of the tuna it uses will only come from more selective fishing methods such as pole and line or FAD-free purse seining, an impressive increase of 22% on its current sourcing. (FADs are floating devices that attract tuna and other species around them, and are associated with high levels of bycatch). In its remaining operations, it has also committed to significantly reduce the numbers of FADs used by its vessels, setting a cap of 300 in line with earlier commitments made by the world’s largest tuna company, Thai Union. Bolton will also prohibit the use of so-called ‘supply vessels’ that service its own fleet by providing extra FADs and other equipment. These measures help to send a strong signal to the global tuna fishing industry that FAD numbers must be reduced from their currently historically high levels.

While these changes on how Bolton gets its tuna are important, it also marks global momentum within the tuna industry towards practices which better protect the ocean and the people who work on them – the fishermen.

Only last year, following an international campaign by Greenpeace, the world’s largest tuna company, Thai Union, signed up to a landmark set of commitments to better protect the oceans and workers. There is no doubt that the huge public pressure generated globally to help encourage Thai Union to make these changes has also played a part in encouraging Bolton to move. The issues around destructive tuna fisheries are now well known – overfishing of some tuna stocks, high accidental catches of sharks and other species, and human rights abuses and labour violations on many fishing vessels. Consumers and concerned people around the world are demanding higher standards from our seafood and the companies that catch and process it.

Protest at Thai Union Headquarters in Thailand © Baramee Temboonkiat / Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists in front of the Thai Union Headquarters, in Bangkok.

With Thai Union and Bolton, who sell huge volumes of tuna every year, now moving ahead to deliver greatly improved standards, the pressure on other major tuna and seafood brands, traders, processors and retailers continues to grow. Those companies that fail to respond and raise their own game start to fall behind the new high standards, and are less able to provide the ocean and worker friendly tuna that more and more consumers now demand.

Small actions, taken by us as individuals when we send a message to a company, can really help to drive substantial changes in the biggest industries. Even those operating far away from easy scrutiny… a long way out at sea.

One of the best ways to protect our oceans from destructive fishing is to establish ocean sanctuaries. Help us create the world’s largest ocean sanctuary in Antarctica.


Oliver Knowles is an Oceans Campaigner with Greenpeace International