Tesco escapes last place in new tinned tuna league table with spectacular policy u-turn

Posted by jamie — 9 January 2011 at 10:40am - Comments
Tesco was bottom of our tinned tuna league table before a nifty u-turn
All rights reserved. Credit: Cobb / Greenpeace
Tesco was bottom of our tinned tuna league table before a nifty u-turn

Update, 9 March 2011: both Princes and Asda have committed to removing tuna caught using fish aggregating devices in combination with purse seine nets from their supply chains by 2014. Read more >>

Having got wind of our new tinned tuna league table (see below) and the fact that it was going to come last, Tesco has done a spectacular u-turn. After being the subject of a Greenpeace investigation, it has radically improved its policy on the fishing methods it will permit for its own-brand tuna.

The downside is that we had an entire campaign ready to roll out today which you won't get to see now. But any frustration is easily outweighed by achieving a major victory without even going public. Perhaps the threat of a Greenpeace campaign – and the outrage of thousands of Greenpeace supporters - is enough to move huge corporations.

But anyway, the whole reason this has happened is because over the last few months we've been producing a new league table and report to show how supermarkets (along with key brands Princes and John West) rate in terms of sustainability on their tinned tuna. A lot has happened since the last one we compiled in 2008, and with Channel 4's Big Fish Fight season in the offing, the time was ripe for a new version.

Questionnaires were sent out to the various companies and their policies on key issues were assessed, including: how their tuna is caught; which species of tuna they stock; the labelling on their tins; and any public statements made about supporting the creation of marine reserves – including the Pacific Commons.

The results showed that all the companies we surveyed have made positive steps in the last couple of years, but some far more than others. Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose took the top three places thanks to stocking only tuna caught by pole and line. Tesco, however, came last as most of its tuna is caught using Fads (fish aggregating devices) alongside purse seine nets which for the sharks, rays and juvenile tuna caught up in them are little more than deathtraps.

In terms of protecting marine life from the ravages of the fishing industry, dolphin-friendly labels on tins of tuna just isn't enough.

At least that was how things were on Friday afternoon, until we heard from Tesco that it was going to be stocking 100 per cent pole and line-caught tuna by the end of 2012. (Only a month ago in response to our survey it said it was only prepared to source 25 per cent in the same manner and even then, only as a trial.) The phrase "if possible" was also used, and there's still no word on public support for  marine reserves, but that move alone was enough to move them up into fifth place.

The scale of this shouldn't be underplayed either. Here in the UK, we are the second most eager eaters of tinned tuna behind the US and Tesco sells the most tins in this country, so the impact on the global market is significant to say the least. With 1kg of bycatch in every 10kg of tuna caught with Fads and purse seine nets, that's going to be good news for all the sharks and other marine life out there.

Of course, someone has to come in bottom place and the dubious honour has now gone to Princes. Most of its tuna is caught alongside large quantities of bycatch and it also sells bigeye tuna, which is described as vulnerable on the IUCN red list, as well as yellowfin tuna. It also doesn't mention on the label how the tuna was caught or even which species it is, and the claim that "Princes is fully committed to fishing methods which protect the marine environment and marine life", which appears on its tins, rings hollow. We're planning on making a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about this next week.

So thanks to some nifty footwork, Tesco escapes and Princes becomes the worst major tinned tuna brand. You'll appreciate that, given the sudden turn of events, our campaign plans are changing rapidly, but we'll be talking tinned tuna again very soon.

In the meantime, don't miss Hugh's Fish Fight starting on Channel 4 this Tuesday at 9pm. In episodes two and three (shown on Wednesday and Thursday) you'll get to see some of the investigative work done last year by our researchers to help bring about this sea change in Tesco's policy.

I agree whole-heartedly with this article. Tinned tuna forms a large part of a lot of people's diets and after trying to educate some of my family members about buying fish caught from sustainable sources, including introducing them to the MCS Good Fish Guide, I was shocked to find that in Marks & Spencers the majority of the tinned tuna on the shelf, although caught by pole and line, did not have any species information.

I am probably more aware than most people about this issue, especially after asking to speak to the manager of this branch of M&S, who didn't seem to know that tuna came in different species! I continued to look in different supermarkets and although Sainsbury's faired best and Morrisons and Tescos were the worst I was shocked with the lack of species information on the labels.

How can people make good decisions when buying fish if even the tinned tuna doesn't have species information on? It makes a big difference if the tuna is blue fin/yellow fin or skipjack and even if it was caught by pole and line no-one should be eating blue/yellow fin. Unfortunately though, by claiming boldly that all tuna is caught by pole and line everyone thinks this is ok, just like if it says it's dolphin friendly (even though dolphins are never caught with certain species of tuna). So there is clearly more work to be done.

Keep the campaigning up Greenpeace, you seem to be making all the difference.

its so distressing,its tuna, whales, salmon,the list is endless not only has mankind pillaged and plunderd the land,now its doing its level best to plunder the seas,we are as humans, the top of the food chain, that isnt in question,what is in question beyond reasonable doubt is the methods,goverments tell us eat plenty of fish, 5 daily portions of fruit,you know the human race as a whole is very ignorant,we havent progressed enough as a species to fully understand were our food comes from or what the repercussions are of our eating ways.globally we suffer as i like to call it..mc donalds syndrome..fast food lives with no thought of impact or no moral hangups as to wer it comes from or the wer the disposal of the waste goes to..why should i as a singular human being feel disgusted and let down by  the goverment/s which i dont really support anyway, with its ideas, pomp, and ceromony about how it conducts itself on global issues..fishing farming, cattle the main stay necessitys of every human,i left school with no exams under my belt no adult education as such..but i know this much,what we do as a whole is slowly but surely killing this planet in ways of which we cant imagine...il stop rambling,,,but thank god for the likes of greenpeace and activists of all kinds that care enough all over the world... PEOPLE I SALUTE YOU AND MAY YOU HAVE THE STRENGHT AND COURAGE TO DEFEND EARTH AGAINST THE IGNORANT MASSES...BRAVO,....  DAITHI O'CRU 

Hurrah for Greenpeace on this campaign. It is only with continued positive 'proactive & informed' educational campaigns that coorporations will essentially stop pedddling untruths and issuing simple logos which have for years ill informed people as to the reality of situations. We have become suckers to symbolic/logo driven representations which distorts the essential realities and allows industry to hide behind, until the veil is threatened to be lifted or exposed.

Our dietary habits deny many millions around the world a source of protein, we strip the once plentiful oceans of unique ecosystems that we know very little about other than soley viewing it as a 'resource' for our dinner plates, we feed other wild fish to farmed fish to supplement our supplement needs in Omega oils. I'm sure if you ask the majority of people on the street to name 2 types of tuna they'd be hard pushed, so this campaign breathes a little light and a little respite to a severly embattled marine life species.

The radical need to overhaul at the political level the CFP within Europe, our need to view pelagics, marine life and the oceans as something manifestly important to us and 'our' survival on this spining blue planet other than a food resource is timely to say the least.

Is it just me, or is selling a species of Tuna as food that is classified as "vulnerable"  downright daft?

I don't eat Tuna anyway, half because of the dodgy practices that go on in order to supply demend and half because I find it absolutly repulsive.

well done to everybody who worked on this project and I hope you have further sucess without having to go public. Just shows the power a name like Greenpeace has eh?

There are several species of tuna: some, like bluefin and bigeye, are being overfished and at risk; others, like skipjack, currently aren't. That's why saying which species is in the tin is so important.

I for one will never eat tuna again. The treatment of the tuna species and the other fish that are caught and killed is just horrendous and wasteful. They care about nothing else but making a few bucks, but what they are too thick to realise is that unless they change their methods and quantities that they catch and waste then they will have nothing to catch in a few years time. Then where will their few bucks come from???

Yes, thank you, Greenpeace, for highlighting this.

However, my advice to anyone who wants to stop the wholesale destruction of the planet is to GO VEGAN!

It's only people buying the stuff in the shops that is driving this problem.

And don't believe the propoganda about needing animal products - you'll be healthier without it.

I have just watched Hughs Fish Fight - wednesday C4 and have checked my own kitchen, I thought I was doing well with my usual brand "John West Tuna Chunks" "Dolphin Friendly" I like eating Tuna, I eat Tuna at least once a week and do not want to stop. Please tell me what brand should I buy. I shop in tescos, marks & spencer and occassionly Lidl. (I live in Ireland so I am also near Dunnes Stores and Supervalu shops also) Thank you - I honestly thought I was doing well with my Dolphin Friendly label.

@ Advise Me Please If you like tuna the best thing to do is to look for Pole & Line Caught (not just line caught) and the species that are ok to eat (according to the Marine Conservation Soc Good Fish Guide) are Albacore from the South Pacific but not from the South Atlantic OR Skipjack (which is probably the more common one you will find) from the Pacific, West Atlantic or the Maldives. If you want to have a look at the good fish guide it's free and you can print it for when you're out shopping for fish and can be found at http://www.fishonline.org/buying_eating/seafood.php or Greenpeace have their own version which you can get sent to you via e-mail at http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/oceans/forms/order-your-free-fish-guide?gcl... In terms of where to buy from, Sainsbury's hit the top of Greenpeace's best Tuna list, but if you don't have one Marks & Spencer'scame a close second and it's their own brand tinned tuna you want see here :http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tunaleaguetable My best advice for eating fish is to vary what you eat, not only will this be better for your health but also the environment too. Also something to watch about tuna intake is the amount of heavy metal like mercury held in their flesh, which can sometimes be quite high, although there are no daily recommendations in Europe, recent work I have seen in the US recommend limiting the amount of tuna you eat if you're a woman of child beaing age. Just a thought that doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere else. Hope this helps.


I don't see any propaganda about "needing animal products".

Most of us enjoy animal products and all that is needed is to educate people on which animal products we can enjoy responsibly. I do, however, see the health benifits of going vegan, but I wouldn't say that it is healthier to do so in every case; correct me if I'm wrong but am I right in thinking some vegans need to supplement thier diet with vitamins to replace the ones lost by not eating animal products? if so, you could argue that it is not healthier in those cases to go vegan.

Thank you very much Rachel and also for taking the time to include the links. John West is no longer welcome in my house.

I love eating tuna and fish in general and am hugely grateful to Greenpeace and the fish fight campaign for helping me as a consumer to make better informed choices about how I can shop and eat sustainably. Now lets stop the Japanese from slaughtering dolphins: http://www.thecovemovie.com/

Thank you Greenpeace for the work that you do. I agree with the campaign and support the work that you have done. But what happened to the Ghanian fishermen featured in 'The Big Fish Fight', January 12 - 13? I am concerned that these men have suffered. Are they still employed? Have they lost their liberty? Please let us know.

I have been totally overwhelmed by Hugh's Fish Fight and I felt ashamed of our European stupidity, thoughtlessness and greed.  I was aware of bycatch problems but when the problem of discard was laid bare on our TV screens caused by the sheer stupidity of our Fisheries Policy I was extremely angry and upset.  As far as bycatch and fishing methods are concerned,in my opinion Tesco will be harder hit than they expect by this.  They may have made a U turn in their policy on fish suppliers but I think they have taken a serious knock in how customers perceive them.  They have certainly lost my trust and I think any 'green' claims they make about products and their operating methods have to be taken with a pinch of salt.  I, for one, won't be doing my weekly shop there this weekend.

Thank you Greenpeace for the great work that you do.

I agree with comments made by @By Ashamed. In my opinion Tesco have not taken action for any moral reason, but to simply avoid moral outrage. I think they will get off lightly as a result of this last minute U-turn, but I certainly hope they will think carefully about their environmental policies in future. I have long been a regular Tesco shopper because I generally trust their brand. I am not sure if I can trust them anymore.

I wouldn't want to comment on the internal reasons for Tesco having made the change, but some supermarkets definitely have more environmental issues as part of their core values, while others don't to the same extent. It's still part of their drive to make a profit and there are huge problems with the supermarket system in general, but there definitely ones that make more of an effort.

I too watched Hugh's Fish Fight on channel 4 last week and was utterly shocked by the fishing methods used and the waste of a creature's life, but what also made me really angry was the fact that I felt I'd been doublecrossed by the supermarkets (I shop at Tesco). I'm careful about choosing organic and free range products, but this documentary proved I'm not getting what I thought I was!

WELL DONE GREENPEACE, WE LOVE YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  :)

Hi new poster here and non member here.

Thanks and well done on the success of the campaign to all those involved.

And thanks to those so far who have seen some sense though there is a long way to go yet so to those supermarkets and wholesalers please be more proactive in your ethics.

By the way how does this campaign reach out to all those wholesalers and convenience stores across the UK.

To what extent do supermarkets who are forced to change their ways become lobbyists for the rest of the industry to do so?

Is there an EU or UK proposal coming through to strengthen the laws?

Thanks in advance for any answers.

PS I was trying to find your discussion boards.


Thanks for the kind words and welcome the site.

We won't be focusing on wholesalers or small retailers as that section of the market is extremely fragmented compared with the supermarkets and top brands. But between them, Princes and John West have around 70 per cent of the UK tinned tuna market, so if both those company improve their practices (and Princes have already committed to doing so), then the bulk of the tinned tuna going through wholesalers and corner shops will be covered.

And some supermarkets certainly do become advocates for improved sustainability once they're aware of the issues and figure out how to tackle them, but others are less vocal in their support.

No legislation specifically on fish aggregating devices in the pipeline as far as I'm aware, but the Common Fisheries Policy is up for reform and - while it wouldn't deal with this precise issue and presents a whole host of other problems - getting it right will do much to sort out the state of our seas.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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