A year later, tuna brands do better on sustainability

3/26/2012

About a year ago, Greenpeace examined the seafood sustainability practices of Canada’s top canned tuna brands. What it found was not good. Just two brands out of 14 got passing grades and too many brands relied on fishing practices the environmental group calls destructive.

Thirteen months later, it seems there is some good news. In its second annual ranking of Canadian canned tuna brands, released yesterday, Greenpeace gave passing grades to nearly half of the 14 brands.

All but two companies now have seafood sustainability policies in place and several have made notable changes to their sourcing practices, halting the use of some endangered species of tuna and switching to fishing methods that do not kill so many other species in the ocean.

“We have seen some positive change in tuna markets around the world and now we’re seeing Canadian canned tuna brands step up and commit to sourcing more tuna responsibly,” Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada’s oceans campaign co-ordinator, said yesterday.

Greenpeace in particular noted improvements by the Canadian Fishing Company (maker of the Gold Seal brand) and Canada Safeway. Both committed to source all their skipjack tuna from sustainable sources, for instance. Out of a score of 100 per cent, Greenpeace gave the Canadian Fishing Company 56 per cent, up from 40 last year. Safeway shot up to 54 per cent, from just 30 a year ago.

On Tuesday, Safeway Canada said by the end of this year its brand skipjack canned tuna will be caught using free-school purse-seine methods and without employing fish aggregating devices, which are considered harmful.

Free-school tuna is caught by purse-seiners using traditional methods of spotting schools of fish using radar and sonar. Fishing boat captains, meanwhile, spot birds attracted by schools of tuna through binoculars. Safeway's president, Chuck Mulvenna, said the new sourcing policy addresses consumer demand for a more sustainably sourced product.

In its rankings, Greenpeace also cited the Oceans brand for introducing a line of skipjack canned tuna that’s caught using the low-impact pole and line fishing method.

During the past year, five canned tuna brands stopped using yellowfin tuna, which the environmental group has redlisted as being endangered or threatened.

Greenpeace was critical, however, of the country’s largest canned seafood brand, Clover Leaf Seafoods. Though its score improved this year to 48 per cent from 27 a year ago, Greenpeace said Clover Leaf still employs fishing practices that are destructive and the company has a ways to go to live up to its own sustainable seafood policy.

Clover Leaf was ranked ninth among 14 canned tuna brands, ahead of Overwaitea Food Group’s Western Family brand, Metro’s Selection brand, Walmart’s Great Value brand, Unico and Pastene.

Pastene was given a score of just four per cent and does not appear to have a seafood sustainable procurement policy, Greenpeace wrote in its report. (Pastene did not take part in Greenpeace's survey.)

On the other end of the scale, No. 1 ranked Raincoast Trading scored 92 per cent. It has a comprehensive sustainability policy that states, among other things, what types of fisheries it will source tuna from and which it won't. Raincoast also audits suppliers and works with two noted sustainability organizations: SeaChoice and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Raincoast’s tuna is individually harvested using surface troll jigs, a fishing method that has minimal impact on other types of marine life. It does not buy tuna caught with longlines or nets that often snare other types of species, such as turtles.

Here are Greenpeace’s complete canned tuna brand rankings for 2012 (with scores in brackets):

1. Raincoast Trading (92%)

2. Wild Planet Foods – Wild Planet, Sustainable Seas brands (82%)

3. Canadian Fishing Co. – includes Gold Seal brand (56%)

4. Ocean Brands – Ocean’s brand (55%)

5. Canada Safeway (54%)

6. Sobeys – Compliments, Sensations brands (53%)

7. Loblaw – President’s Choice, No Name brands (49%)

8. Bolton Alimentari Italia SPA – Rio Mare brand (49%)

9. Clover Leaf Seafoods (48%)

10. Overwaitea Food Group – Western Family brand (46%)

11. Metro – Selection brand (45%)

12. Walmart – Great Value brand (42%)

13. Unico (21%)

14. Pastene (4%)

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