Greenpeace: Supermarkets must buy sustainable tuna

Posted by Josette Dunn on 16th April 2010

Canned tuna is currently the biggest selling seafood item in Australia. As supermarkets sell more and more of this profitable product, tuna stocks are in a critical condition. Greenpeace is now putting pressure on supermarkets and consumers to take responsibility for this problem.

Supermarkets play a key role in the overfishing crisis by selling us overfished tuna.  Greenpeace’s Canned Tuna Guide  exposes the supermarkets selling us overfished species or using destructive fishing techniques.


Most of Australia’s tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean, which is also the source of over half the world’s tuna. But our appetite for tuna is now greater than what our oceans can produce, giving rise to a fisheries crisis.

Global tuna stocks have been decreasing since industrial fishing began in the 1950s.  Having fished out their own waters, countries like Japan, European Union member states, Taiwan, Korea, the United States and China are now sending their industrial fishing fleets to the Pacific to exploit the region’s stocks.

Added to this is the persistence of pirate fishing, which is rife within the tuna fishing industry. This fishing is illegal, unreported and unregulated.

Bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin and Albacore Tuna are now all overfished due to industrial tuna fishing. Skipjack Tuna is the only healthy tuna species left.

Overfished species such as Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna are ending up on Australian supermarket shelves.  Greenpeace is encouraging supermarkets to switch to sustainably caught Skipjack Tuna.

In addition, destructive fishing methods used for canned tuna also kills sharks, turtles and juvenile tuna.  For every 1000 tonnes of Yellowfin Tuna caught over three years, fishermen catch over 100,000 other animals including sharks, rays, marlins and turtles.  And this is just the bycatch we know about.


The majority of canned tuna is caught using fish aggregation devices (or FADs) — floating and submerged objects that encourage tuna to gather around them. The fish are then scooped up in huge nets called purse seines.

Marine animals are killed or harmed in fishing operations without ever being brought on board. Species like turtles and dolphins get tangled in nets or hooked on longlines. Even those that escape are sometimes too injured or weak to survive the ordeal.

Animals caught as bycatch are usually thrown back dead because they are the wrong species, the wrong size, of inferior quality or surplus to the fishing operation’s quotas. It’s an enormous and reckless waste.

Experts believe entanglement in nets to be responsible for most deaths among cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and the greatest threat to the survival of many other species.

Bycatch removes marine life that would be better left in the sea as part of the intricate ocean ecosystem. Non-commercial fish species are also important food for commercially popular fish, endangered fish species and other marine wildlife such as seabirds.

Greenpeace want supermarkets to only sell tuna caught sustainably, such as by pole or line methods.  No Australian tuna brand uses sustainable tuna. Even the top brands use destructive fishing methods. But the good news is some brands are making positive changes.

Coles, Greenseas, Paramount and John West have ended their trade in overfished Yellowfin Tuna. Aldi is now selling a tuna range using a selective
fishing method – trolling. However, most brands continue to source from overfished stocks and use destructive fishing techniques that kill turtles and sharks. Alarmingly
for consumers, brands are hiding information about which species is in the can or how it was caught.

Canned tuna rankings: 1 (most sustainable) – 10 (least sustainable)

1. Greenseas

Greenseas uses sustainable Skipjack Tuna and is improving its labelling. As leaders on sustainability we hope it will provide consumers with a sustainable pole and line caught tuna range to avoid unnecessary bycatch.
2. Coles

Coles use Skipjack Tuna and are good on traceability and labelling. The next step Coles can take is to introduce a sustainable seafood policy that rules out the use of FADs to catch tuna.
3. Aldi

Aldi has shown leadership by introducing a troll caught tuna and providing consumer information. However, it must end its trade in overfished Yellowfin and Albacore Tuna to move up the ranking.
4. Woolworths

Woolworths sells overfished Yellowfin Tuna and has inconsistent labelling. Woolworths’ credibility on sustainability and equitability depends on working with suppliers to improve its tuna ranking.
5. Safcol

It is an embarrassing report card for Safcol. Safcol does not label its cans or provide useful information on the true chain of custody of its products.
6. Paramount

Paramount has a long way to go. It must provideinformation on its chain of custody and remove overfished Yellowfin Tuna from its product range.
7. John West

John West does not let consumers know what is in the can. If it is truly committed to sustainability, it will provide a bycatch free product by looking to selective fishing methods like pole and line for its range.

8. Sole Mare

Sole Mare trade in the overfished species Yellowfin Tuna. It needs to end its trade in this species and provide consumers with truly sustainable tuna.
9. IGA, Franklins and SPAR

It is shameful that these three supermarkets cannot provide the most basic consumer information about the tuna in their products. They need to clean up their act and be honest about their tuna trade.
10. Sirena

Sirena is an irresponsible company that does not even let consumers know which tuna is in its cans. Sirena must be transparent and frank about its tuna and the fishing methods it uses.

Criteria for the canned tuna ranking:
• If the tuna comes from overfished stocks;
• If the tuna comes from illegal vessels or companies;
• If the tuna can is labelled correctly; and
• If the tuna was fished using methods that result in high levels of bycatch.

Brands were also ranked on their:
• Commitment to not source tuna from proposed marine reserves.
• Commitment to equitable sourcing policy for tuna.

The rankings are based on an international canned tuna ranking system. Australian tuna brands have some of the worst practices worldwide, with no brand ranking above 30%.

The poor rating of Australian brands means urgent action is required to improve tuna procurement. In the UK, supermarkets have taken responsibility for the tuna in their
stores. Waitrose, Sainburys and Marks and Spencer have all moved to pole and line caught tuna. The Co-op supermarket went even further, collecting 300,000 signatures
in support of marine reserves.

Supermarkets play a key role in the tuna crisis
To ensure that tuna is caught in well-managed fisheries, supermarkets must be able to trace the chain of custody of the tuna they buy. This means knowing where, when, and how it was caught, and that a fair price was paid by the fishing operator.

To make informed decisions about the fish we eat, labelling on tuna cans needs to be complete and consistent. Most tuna brands currently available in Australia fail to tell us which species is in the can, or how and where it was caught.

Tuna brands should provide the following basic information:
On every can:
• The Standard Fish Name and scientific name of each seafood species in the product (e.g. Skipjack
Tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis).
• The Fisheries and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) catch area where the tuna came from, and the
name of the stock (e.g. 71, Pacific, Western Central).
• The production method and fishing technique (e.g. wild caught, purse seine net with fish aggregating
device (FAD))