Is Your Favorite Canned Tuna Brand Part of the Solution for Our Oceans?

by Kate Melges

October 21, 2015

There is such a thing as sustainable tuna. From national brands to family-owned businesses, these companies are making the responsible choice for healthy oceans.

Pole and Line Fishing in Indonesia

Skipjack tuna caught by pole-and-line off Flores, Indonesia. Fishing practices like pole-and-line contribute to the long-term sustainability and evolution of the stock.

© Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Some of the biggest and most recognizable tuna brands in the United States are actively hiding their dubious fishing practices. It’s hard to know which brands you can trust to ensure your meal isn’t made from overfished, destructively fished, unethical tuna. Luckily for tuna-eaters and ocean-lovers, more and more brands are working to set themselves apart from the rest and offer products that are more sustainable and socially responsible.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace ranked 14 prominent U.S. national and private label supermarket brands on how sustainable and ethical their canned tuna is. U.S. consumers increasingly want responsibly sourced food, and Greenpeace’s Canned Tuna Shopping Guide is a useful tool to help shoppers make informed decisions about their favorite tuna brands.

Fortunately, sustainable and ethical tuna products are available almost everywhere throughout the United States. Brands like Wild Planet, American Tuna and Ocean Naturals — which all received a green rating in the Tuna Shopping Guide —   are better options for consumers, a league apart from the rest for their commitment to only offer more sustainable products. Other ranked brands like Whole Foods’ 365 products, Hy-Vee’s “Responsible Choice” product lines, Trader Joe’s skipjack, Target’s Simply Balanced brand and Costco’s Kirkland Signature skipjack also present more ocean-friendly options for tuna-lovers.   

Beyond these ranked brands, various smaller tuna companies have chosen to be part of the solution. We sat down with a couple of them located in the Pacific Northwest to hear why they choose to fish sustainably and ethically. Here’s what they shared with us.

St. Jude

St. Jude

Photo courtesy of St. Jude.

St. Jude is a family business based in Seattle, owned and operated by Joe and Joyce Malley. Joe owns and operates a 95-foot tuna fishing boat dubbed St. Jude, which spends its time trolling for Albacore tuna along North and South Pacific waters. The couple lived and fished aboard St. Jude for some 12 years until starting a family, at which point they went into business marketing their own tuna brand.

The Saint Jude exclusively trolls for albacore tuna. By using this highly targeted fishing method, the fishery produces a minimal catch of non-target species. According to Joe:

“Our generation has taken too much from our greatest resource. The great Bluefin populations shrink as we pursue them to the ends of the earth, catching them at every stage of their migration. Will they suddenly disappear like the passenger pigeon? My world will become vastly diminished if that happens… If we could simply harvest more wisely, I believe that we could change the world.”

St Jude’s website provides a plethora of information on sustainability ratings, with links to organizations promoting sustainable seafood more generally.

Oregon Seafoods

Oregon Seafoods

Photo courtesy of Oregon Seafoods.

After 18 years working in wood products, Mike Babcock started Oregon Seafoods, becoming a partner in a retail fish market in Coos Bay, Oregon. Spending time with local fishermen who wanted to market sustainable albacore, Mike conceived that Oregon Seafood could produce a high-end, once-cooked albacore tuna locally.

“It just doesn’t make sense to send our premium N.W. Pacific-caught albacore to another country for processing when we need jobs to support the families here in the U.S.”

So Mike created Sea Fare Pacific in early 2011 to fulfill that dream. The company purchases wild, troll-caught albacore from U.S. family owned fishing vessels, and the fish is processed year-round, serving the needs of the fishermen and providing year-long employment in the community. Sea Fare Pacific says it strives for high quality, naturally nutritious products, based on a love for the environment and a desire to preserve it for future generations.

There are various other examples of smaller-scale companies providing more sustainable and socially responsible tuna products in their communities. Just further up the coast in Canada, Raincoast Trading — ranked first in Greenpeace Canada’s 2013 Canned Tuna Ranking — Estevan, Finest at Sea and others also catch, process and sell troll and pole and line caught albacore from the Pacific Northwest.

Sustainable Tuna Is Within Our Reach

From the Pacific Northwest to the Maldives and beyond, traditional fishers have been using more selective fishing methods to feed their families and support coastal livelihoods for generations. These fisheries are an integral part of the overall solution to a truly sustainable tuna industry, but we need major players to take responsibility for the rest of the industry, the part that is out of control.

Greenpeace has launched a global campaign targeting the world’s largest canned tuna producer, Thai Union, and its major brands like Chicken of the Sea, for its refusal to create change through its supply chains back to the fisheries it sources from. At the heart of the industry, Thai Union has the power to force fisheries to stop being wasteful and destructive and instead fish more responsibly and selectively, ultimately leaving more sea life in the sea.      

You can help by supporting more responsible brands and by sending a message to Chicken of the Sea and Thai Union that you don’t have an appetite for dirty tuna. To get their attention, we need everyone on board.

Take action: tell Chicken of the Sea that you want tuna that is safe for both our oceans and the workers at sea.

Kate Melges

By Kate Melges

Kate Melges is an oceans campaigner based in Seattle. She leads Greenpeace’s Ocean Plastics work. Kate’s focus is ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean.

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