Ensuring Sustainable Seafood

Our oceans, once thought to be endlessly abundant, are being depleted by overfishing and destructive fishing practices, which have caused the populations of the ocean’s top predators — like sharks, tuna, and swordfish — to drop by as much as 90 percent over the past 50 years.

But the industry’s harm does not stop there – human rights are also a casualty of this destructive industry. Forced labor and human trafficking, forms of modern slavery, are “a severe problem” in the industry, according to the International Labor Organization. And reports from Greenpeace East Asia and Southeast Asia tell harrowing tales of conditions onboard, including 20 hour work days, being cut off from contact with family, docked wages, lack of potable water and nutritious food, violence, and even death. Workers have reported being beaten, abused, and forced to work on ships for months or years at a time.

Fish caught under these conditions are making their way onto US supermarket shelves. This reality, however, has largely been hidden from U.S. consumers. US grocery retailers make a lion’s share of the revenue in the tuna industry — in 2018, tuna vessels worldwide netted $11 billion. Yet retailers earned almost four times that amount from their sales of tuna products in the same year. Making matters worse, for the most part the retailers that profit from tuna products have yet to hold themselves and their suppliers to more rigorous standards. Let’s be clear — this isn’t about forcing consumers to make tough choices. It’s about demanding that companies and supermarkets make meaningful and necessary changes so that the sustainable seafood option is the easiest choice for shoppers. We must also ensure that the US government has and enforces regulations that prevent companies from having the option to import goods that exploit workers and our oceans.

Spotlight on Tuna

The U.S. is one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, and the largest market for canned tuna. Unfortunately, most of the tuna found on supermarket shelves — including well-known brands like Bumblebee and Starkist — come from destructive fishing methods that injure and kill other marine animals and may put workers at risk.

One of the largest tuna brands in the U.S., Bumble Bee, is owned by the world’s largest canned tuna trader — Taiwanese company FCF. As we pressure them to clean up their supply chain, other companies must follow suit. 

Human & labor rights

The commercial fishing vessels that supply the industry operate in the middle of the world’s largest oceans. They are quite possibly the most isolated workplace on the planet; human rights and environmental standards have always been easy to skirt.

Your grocery store ranked

Our The High Cost of Cheap Tuna report spotlights which major grocery chains are leaders in sustainable and ethical seafood and which are falling behind.

Applauding industry leaders and exposing those lagging behind is key to getting supermarkets to take responsibility and play their part in protecting our oceans.

Is your supermarket selling sustainable seafood? Find out by downloading the The High Cost of Cheap Tuna 2023 report.