How much scandal can fit in one can of tuna?

by Casson Trenor

March 21, 2013

The Greenpeace airship A.E. Bates flies flies by the La Jolla peninsula near the headquarters of Chicken of the Sea canned tuna company to call attention to overcatch and bye-catch issues.

© Greenpeace / Ann Johansson

ID: The Greenpeace airship A.E. Bates flies flies by the La Jolla peninsula near the headquarters of Chicken of the Sea canned tuna company to call attention to overfishing and bycatch issues.

Weve seen things go from bad to worse in the conventional canned tuna industry over the last year. In 2011, with the launch of Greenpeaces campaign to reform Chicken of the Sea, information on the sectors destructive practices came to the forefront. Images of sharks, rays, and even cetaceans being callously slaughtered on tuna boats peppered the internet and ran rampant across social media. A tuna boat helipilot-turned-whistleblower, his voice distorted and face blacked out to ensure his anonymity, told the world about the horrors that were being committed in the open ocean in the name of cheap canned tuna. Greenpeaces airship flew along a San Diego freeway, emblazoned with a demand for Chicken of the Sea to stop ripping up the sea.

Since then, things have worsened considerably. A human rights scandal erupted when Chicken of the Seas parent company, Thai Union, was accused of using child labor by the watchdog group Finnwatch. Just this past month, a lawsuit was filed against StarKist for under-filling its tuna cans. And most recently, Dongwon the parent company of StarKist has been accused of massive fraud by the Liberian government.

The actual events behind the alleged fraud remain unclear, but one thing is certain: the tuna industry is in real trouble, and its ostensible leader, the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF), needs to do something about it.

Greenpeace has long been skeptical of ISSF, which has functioned more as an industry protection group than as any sort of environmental body. That said, ISSF has repeatedly asserted that its members do not engage in the trafficking of IUU (pirate) fish. As such, one would think that ISSF would take this opportunity to investigate these charges and take the appropriate actions to ensure that its membership remains unimpeachable.

Greenpeace has sent a letter urging as much to ISSF president Susan Jackson, who will hopefully take the appropriate action by thoroughly investigating not just this recent alleged fraud, but all of the numerous past similar cases as well (including the French and Spanish suppliers of various ISSF members that were accused of the same actions by Liberia in 2012).

Its hard to accept how such an innocuous little product can in fact hide so much destruction and scandal and even harder to continue to support companies like StarKist, Chicken of the Sea, and Bumble Bee that profit at the expense of ongoing ocean devastation. Until these companies change their ways and adopt more sustainable and equitable practices, shoppers will continue to seek out retailers like Safeway and Whole Foods that offer better tuna options for concerned consumers.

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