A World Tuna Day Without Tuna?

by Perry Wheeler

May 5, 2017

Even as tuna populations dwindle from overfishing, the tuna industry is putting its short-term profits before our oceans and its own workers.

Pole and Line Sustainable Tuna Fishing in Larantuka

May 2 was World Tuna Day, which the United Nations marked with calls to conserve the world’s most popular fish, noting its role “in sustainable development, food security, economic opportunity, and livelihoods of people around the world.” By contrast, Chicken of the Sea — one of the largest American tuna brands — used the opportunity to run a recipe contest and promote new ways to eat as much fish as the industry can sell.

Here’s what we think they should have done instead.

It’s time for leadership from Chicken of the Sea to help shift this highly destructive industry. The company has been a laggard in Greenpeace’s canned tuna ranking for its substandard policies and practices on sustainability and social responsibility. This year it once again ranked in the “failing” category, and has not yet taken the steps needed to transform the industry for the better.

Greenpeace has been pushing  Chicken of the Sea and its parent company Thai Union to change their ways since 2015. Thai Union has been implicated in numerous investigations into human rights abuse and is known for selling fish caught with destructive fishing methods. The company has recently indicated a genuine desire to change its practices and help move the industry to something more sustainable and ethical, but part of that must include a mindset shift from its brands, including Chicken of the Sea.

We cannot simply continue fishing our oceans to death — the largest industry players need to be on the frontlines fighting for change.

The annual global catch of tuna and tuna-like species, including mackerels and billfish, increased from roughly half a million metric tons in 1950 to a record 7.4 million metric tons in 2013. Populations of tuna and their mackerel relatives have declined, on average, by 60 percent over a half century. Today, of the 23 populations of the seven key commercial tuna species, nine are overfished and another two are likely overfished. And these figures don’t even capture all of the other marine life that is captured and killed as bycatch by the industrial tuna fishing industry.

This is not sustainable. It is symptomatic of an industry that has put its short-term profits before our oceans and before the workers that catch fish for our families to eat.

More and more people within and outside of the tuna industry are finally realizing that their business depends on sustaining fish populations. To truly transform an industry riddled with ocean destruction and labor abuse, Thai Union and its global brands like Chicken of the Sea must stand up and fight for real reform in the industry.

Thai Union and Chicken of the Sea should continue to embrace transparency by ensuring the traceability of all seafood from ship to plate. Consumers deserve to know where their seafood is coming from, and who caught it.

They must stop using poorly regulated and destructive fishing methods that needlessly kill vulnerable marine wildlife. No one wants to buy tuna with a side of sea turtle or shark.

They must stop sourcing from rogue vessels that transship at sea, as the practice is often associated with illegal fishing and human rights abuses. The transfer of often-illegal fish from one vessel to another allows ships to dodge regulations, hold crews hostage at sea, and continue plundering the oceans for months or years at a time.

Finally, the companies must show all of us how they plan to catch 100 percent responsibly-caught products. They need to demonstrate that their sustainability and responsibility standards on paper are met across their supply chains.

These are not easy tasks, but they are vital for the future of our oceans and the workers who are often mistreated on tuna vessels. They are also vital for the companies who want to continue fishing for years to come. Chicken of the Sea and Thai Union must show the leadership needed to transform the entire seafood industry. Next year, we hope that Chicken of the Sea runs a contest for World Tuna Day that gathers the most innovative solutions to overfishing, destructive fishing, and labor abuse at sea — we’ve got a few ideas to share with them.

Ask Chicken of the Sea to commit to protect oceans and seafood workers today.

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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