Supermarket giants dump John West tuna because its fishing methods kill turtles

The British supermarket leviathan Tesco has announced that it is dropping John West tuna from its shelves by the end of the month, because—despite misleading ‘Dolphin-safe’ labelling on many of their products—the firm still employs methods of catching the fish that also attract, net and kill loads of other species, including turtles, rays and endangered sharks.

Last year, John West came rock bottom in a Greenpeace study into the ethical practices of tuna fisheries. John West’s tins were found to contain just 2% sustainable tuna, with the remaining 98% caught using destructive big-net fishing methods, including Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). These are literally death traps for marine life other than dolphins, fatally ensnaring a huge variety of wildlife such as turtles, sharks and rays, the bodies of which are then typically dumped back into the ocean.

Tesco has been committed to only stocking pole-and line-caught tuna, a more sustainable form of fishing that minimises the risk to other species, since 2012, demanding that all relevant products have the Marine Stewardship Council stamp. John West have failed to meet the company’s sustainability standards, and therefore Tesco will drop a fifth of all their products, including the best-selling tins of tuna in brine, spring-water and sunflower oil.

A turtle struggles after being caught in a FAD net meant to ensnare tuna.
A turtle struggles after being caught in a FAD net meant to ensnare tuna.

‘Customers want to buy the best quality fish, caught in a way that keeps fish stocks healthy and doesn’t harm the environment,’ Tesco’s group quality director Tim Smith said yesterday. ‘We wanted to take our commitments on quality sustainable tuna further, and earlier this year we announced we would take steps to make sure all the tuna on our shelves – including branded tuna products—met our requirements. We have now completed our review, and as a result have decided to de-list a number of core John West lines with effect from the end of July.’

Campaigners claim John West have broken their 2011 promise that 100% of its tuna would be sustainable by 2016, and welcome Tesco’s decision. Greenpeace declared Tesco’s de-listing of a 20% of John West products ‘a huge victory for the movement for sustainable seafood’.

‘For too long, the presence of John West’s unsustainable tuna, caught using destructive fishing practices which harm all kinds of marine life, has sat uneasily at the centre of that market,’ said the group’s oceans campaigner Ariana Densham. ‘Hundreds of thousands of people are calling on John West and its owner Thai Union to clean up their act, and it’s a credit to Tesco that they have put their money where their mouth is and taken John West’s tuna products off the shelves.’

The decision was also celebrated by vegan popstar Ellie Goulding and celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has spent years campaigning on the issue, and whose activities helped convince all major UK supermarkets to commit to only selling sustainably caught tuna in their own-brand products.

The Thai Union Frozen Group, which owns John West Foods, is the largest producer of tuna in the world, and it also owns other assets, including Sheffield Wednesday football club. The company claims it is working with the WWF-UK to: ‘ensure all our products are on the path to the MSC certification by the end of the initial phase of the partnership in 2018’.

However, John West has also been put on note by another massive supermarket chain, Waitrose, who have sworn to pull its products from shelves unless it quickly meets its sustainability obligations. Shoppers have been lobbying Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe to take action too.

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