Greenpeace said the league table exposes the wide gulf between UK supermarkets and brands which have taken sustainability seriously and those which have simply broken promises to clean up.
Supermarket chains Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s took first, second and third place respectively. A spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said all three have the MSC label on their own-brand tuna, while Waitrose and Sainsbury’s go further with the MSC label on all of their own brand tuna products – including sandwiches and salads.
But the UK's biggest tuna brand, John West, was last. In 2011 it pledged to source 100% of its tuna sustainably by 2016, but has only reached 2%. “This means a whopping 98% of their tuna on supermarket shelves has been caught using destructive fishing methods,” said Greenpeace ocean campaigner Ariana Densham.
The second worst company, Prince’s, uses damaging fishing methods to source 75% of its supplies, such as Fish Aggregating Devices, known to attract a wide variety of sea life which are accidentally caught and then discarded. Meanwhile German discounter Lidl entered the table for the first time and came third last. Nearly 80% of its brand NiXe is caught unsustainably, says Greenpeace.
Densham said: “It’s undeniable that the UK is leaps ahead of many other countries when it comes to the sustainability of tuna offered to customers by the UK's major supermarkets.
“But all this is in danger of unravelling because of the poor progress made by the biggest tuna brands John West and Princes. This is undermining all the good work made by supermarkets and is dragging the UK market down. It’s time for us to collectively demand that John West and Princes clean up once and for all.”
In response to the league table, John West said in a statement: “We believe our commitments are best achieved by employing a number of practices and innovations all of which will work together to minimise bycatch, protect stock levels, preserve oceans, improve working conditions and ensure safe and legal practices throughout every aspect of our operations.”
Brands and retailers were ranked for not only on fishing methods but also sea to shelf traceability, the strength of their policies to avoid illegally caught fish, the amount of information provided to consumes, whether they source healthy tuna stocks and workers’ rights in tuna fisheries.
Fisheries officer at the Marine Conservation Society, Samuel Stone, told FoodNavigator that a limited supply of pole- and line-caught tuna could be why some businesses were not using sustainably-sourced tuna under their own labels. But all businesses, no matter how big or small, could play an important role in driving this change, he said. “If they can’t manage to source pole and line caught tuna, they can still choose from well managed fisheries that minimise bycatch and set fishing limits in line with scientific advice.”
Stone said it was essential for companies to make good on their sustainability promises, especially if they were used to boost their reputation with customers. “If there is a real risk that a specific commitment is in practice not achievable, then it shouldn’t be made in the first place,” he added.
A list of MSC-certified fisheries by fish species can be seen here.