John West – changing their tuna?

Posted by Willie — 16 December 2009 at 3:36pm - Comments

It’s nearly Christmas …. And as I write this it's even snowing outside the Greenpeace office, so maybe it’s time for a little goodwill and some good news.

Way back in 2008 we published a league table ranking the major tinned tuna suppliers in the UK on a number of environmental criteria. Back then big brands John West and Princes were languishing at the bottom of the pile. When we updated that league table in June 2009, we reported some significant process from many of the UK's big retailers – with Sainsbury’s, Co-op, M&S, Waitrose and Asda all increasing their commitments to more responsible sourcing of the tuna in their cans.

Unsurprisingly, over the intervening period, we have also been having regular meetings and conversations with some of the other brands, and John West in particular have been keen to engage with us to let us know what they’re up to. The latest news is that they now have a brand new sustainability policy.

Now, we can be cynical people here at Greenpeace, and some parts of this still have a way to go. For instance – saying that "we recognise that fishing can have impacts on the marine environment" is not dissimilar to recognizing that the creation of an omlette can have impacts on eggshells. And, whilst the company acknowledges problems in current tuna fishing practice, we need actions, rather than just well-crafted words to actually tackle those issues.

But, cynicism aside, this is a good step forward for one of the world's biggest suppliers of canned tuna. In the same way that Greenpeace's work with retailers ensured that all UK supermarkets had sustainable fish sourcing policies, so pressure has helped encourage John West to examine the impact of its own business.

And there are many things here that we should welcome: strong commitments against shark-finning, and for selective fishing methods to reduce bycatch and clear actions against companies engaged in illegal fishing activity. There is also some support too for protected areas, marine reserves, to protect the marine environment, and as a crucial component of well-managed seas.

But, the proof of the Festive pudding is in the eating. And it remains to be seen whether these commitments will result in real changes in the sea. We look forward to John West taking an active role in promoting more selective and responsible methods of fishing (and having seen some very interesting videos last week of separator grids allowing unwanted fish to escape purse seine nets, we know this is possible). We also look forward to John West using its power to lobby and help create marine reserves – giving some much needed respite to our oceans. The 'John West Marine Reserve' has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

But we're still waiting for the other big players in the tuna business to update their own approach to sustainability. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get an unexpected and long overdue Christmas present from Princes.

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