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A leading EU canned tuna brand will only stock “responsibly sourced tuna” from 2015

11 May 2014

Greenpeace acclaimed the commitment by a leading canned tuna brand, Oriental & Pacific, to only stock “responsibly sourced tuna” from 2015.

The retailer Tesco recently came under fire from Greenpeace and a UK celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, because it was buying low-priced tuna from Oriental & Pacific, whose suppliers used fish aggregating devices (FADs) that are known to catch many juvenile fish, sharks, rays and marine turtles. Greenpeace believes tuna can only be said to be sustainable if it is caught using the pole-and-line method, or in nets without FADs.

Over 85,000 people have called on Tesco to remove Oriental & Pacific tuna from its shelves, but Tesco has refused to take action. However, in April, Oriental & Pacific wrote to Greenpeace saying that “from end of April 2015 it will only sell sustainably sourced tuna”.

Greenpeace has welcomed the move, but continues to criticise Tesco. The supermarket had previously committed to make its own brand of tuna sustainable, but as soon as it fulfilled that promise “it introduced unsustainable Oriental & Pacific tuna, undermining its public commitment to protecting the oceans”, said a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner.

The celebrity chef also welcomed the move, further calling on Tesco “to insist that Oriental & Pacific has a clear label stating the catch method, to make sure we can trust these commitments”. “I don’t think anyone should buy a tin of tuna that doesn’t say how it was caught,” he said.

Greenpeace announced it would now be investigating tuna sold in discount supermarkets, such as Aldi and Lidl, which attract increasing numbers of consumers. Although both offer pole-and-line-caught tuna on their shelves, the majority of their tuna is caught using the purse seine/FADs method.

Editorial comment

This case shows that retailers offer ‘sustainable fish’ on their shelves mainly as a way to diversify their offer and increase the number of customers, catering to both those who are sensitive to environmental considerations and those who are more price sensitive. It also shows the importance for suppliers, including those from ACP countries, to have more clarity about what “sustainable tuna” entails in order to adapt their production strategies. Only relying on the catching method to define whether a fish comes from environmentally sustainable fisheries, as suggested by Greenpeace, is too simplistic. Other factors, such as the level of the fishing capacity/fishing effort, should also be considered – as is done by some labels such as MSC – and social aspects of the production, as introduced by some labels like Naturland or Pacifical. In the course of the Common Market Organisation (CMO) reform, the EC has been requested to propose an EU ecolabel for fish products, which would, at least, have the merit to clarify what constitute official standards of sustainability. The CMO reform has also ensured that fish product labelling will now have to indicate the type of gear used to catch the (wild) fish: trawlers, purse seiners, driftnets, hooks, lines, dredgers and traps, corresponding to UK campaigners’ requests.


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