Top retailers demanded to stop selling ‘unsustainable tuna’

Major retailers Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have been accused of "misleading consumers" by selling "unsustainable tuna" sourced from two Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries.

Products such as Princes tuna and Tesco’s own brand label are sourced from fisheries which run widespread unsustainable fishing practices that leads to dangerous bycatch levels, insist campaigners.

The On The Hook coalition of scientists, retailers, politicians and campaigners including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, claims that vessels operating at the Tri-Marine and PNA fisheries haul tuna along with turtles, sharks and other protected species unsustainably.

Tesco was last week forced to remove a statement on its website that it was “proud to say that 100% of our own brand canned tuna in the UK is caught by pole and line”. 

“Both Tesco and MSC need a big rethink if they want to regain consumer trust on the crucial issue of looking after our oceans,” Fearnley-Whittingstall said.

“Clearly Tesco have known for months if not years that some of their own brand tuna was not caught by pole and line, but by methods known to have big by-catch problems, and from a fishery whose MSC certification is now being questioned by leading marine conservation groups.”

Commercial partnerships

The On The Hook campaign group has also raised concerns about MSC “developing commercial partnerships” with global retailers. Evidence suggests that Walmart pressured the Council to certify products from larger fisheries to carry the MSC logo in their corporate interest. 

On the Hook warns that MSC’s “arbitrary” target to raise certified marine catch from current levels of 14% to 20% by 2020, and then to more than a third by 2030, is leading the organisation to lower its own standards.

Campaigners also highlight that the MSC benefits from each new certified fishery through license fee royalties. The PNA fishery, due to be recertified in the next few weeks, is potentially worth more than £10m per year in royalties to the MSC, according to On The Hook, which is calling on the MSC to reconsider its position.

On the Hook spokesperson Professor Callum Roberts said: “Rather than focusing on improving the sustainability of the seafood industry, the MSC are developing commercial partnerships with massive retailers and in the process, propping up some of the largest unsustainable fisheries in the world.

“On The Hook believe it is time for the MSC to urgently review their current standards and stop the re-certification of PNA, the world’s largest tuna fishery.”

Last month, On the Hook claimed that consumers of tuna from the world’s biggest fishery were being “betrayed” over its sustainability. According to the group, boats at the MSC-certified Western and Central Pacific fishery use unsustainable methods to catch skipjack tuna, the type most commonly found in cans on supermarket shelves. At the time, Roberts praised the MSC’s past work on tackling overfishing but suggested the organisation had “lost its moral compass”.

A host of UK retailers and restaurants have signed up to the standard in recent times, most recently hotel chain Premier Inn, which has pledged to serve an extra three million sustainable portions of fish and chips across the UK.

edie’s Responsible Retail conference will be taking place on 20 September 2017 at the 99 City Road Conference Centre in London.

The conference will equip retailers, sustainability professionals and key stakeholders with the information and tools they need to accelerate the transition to more sustainable business practices, reduce long-term costs, improve brand reputation and increase profit margins.

Find out more and register to attend here.

George Ogleby

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