The U.S. is one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, and the largest market for canned tuna. This means our supermarkets—where we buy about half of our seafood—are one of the strongest connections to our oceans and to the people who depend on them.
The commercial fishing vessels that supply the industry operate in the middle of the world’s largest oceans. They are probably the most isolated workplace on the planet; human rights and environmental standards have always been easy to skirt.
Overfishing and destructive fishing practices 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 – humans are also casualties 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, lack of potable water and nutritious food, violence and even death.
And fish caught under those 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. And, for the most part, retailers that profit from tuna products have yet to hold themselves and their suppliers to more rigorous standards. But 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. And ensuring that the US government has and enforces regulations that prevent companies from having the option to import goods that exploit workers and our oceans from being imported at all.
Spotlight on Tuna
Tuna is one of the world’s favorite fish and a staple in many U.S. households.
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.
Workers have reported being beaten, abused and forced to work on ships for months or years at a time. Fishing vessels use methods that wreak havoc on marine life.
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.
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.