Same fish, new business model

Posted by simon clydesdale — 17 August 2011 at 5:40pm - Comments

The hubbub has now died down since we announced that John West’s shift completed a clean sweep of change among major players in the UK tuna market. And it’s been a week since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight: The Battle Continues reinforced this message, making people think about how we use and need to protect the extraordinary resources of the waters that dominate this globe.

So it’s now worth taking a step back to look at what has been achieved by our tinned tuna campaign, and think about what it means for the oceans, supermarkets, tuna brands and consumers.

To recap, when we launched the campaign in January, three companies were already sourcing their own-brand tuna entirely from sustainable fishing methods: Sainsbury’s, M&S and Waitrose. The Co-op was getting there but still had some way to go, while everybody else was sitting at the back of the class mumbling about sustainability and hoping we would go away so they could continue business as usual - selling tuna that was being caught in ways that were driving the oceans to destruction.

But we didn’t go away. And you, our supporters, certainly didn’t go away, sending over 80,000 emails and donning shark costumes. Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s hair went mostly away, but his Fish Fight series was most certainly ever-present.

What did go away was the idea that it was acceptable to sell tuna in the UK caught using destructive methods. Purse seine nets using Fads (fish aggregation devices) became a deadly combination, not only for the oceans but also for the UK tuna industry.

All the major players in the UK tinned tuna market, the second-biggest market in the world for this commodity, committed to change their practices, in various ways and on various timelines. Here's how they stack up:


switch to 100% pole and line by end 2012


switch to 100% pole & line by end 2013


switch to 100% Fad-free and pole and line by end 2013


switch to 100% Fad-free and pole and line by end 2014


switch to 100% Fad-free and pole and line by end 2014

John West

switch to 100% Fad-free and pole and line by end 2016

This is big business: worldwide the skipjack tuna industry alone is worth $7.5bn annually, with the yellowfin tuna trade bringing in an additional $2.7bn.

This business model globally is predominantly based on catching tuna with purse seine nets that use Fads. The tuna campaign has laid out the massive damage to ocean life and ecosystems associated with these marine minefields, yet this deadly combination has been the tool of the trade for the last 30 years for most of the industry.

Why? It’s all about efficiency. Fads, especially those equipped with sonar linked to satellite, help bring vast amounts of ocean life together in one place and allow skippers to make the maximum - but indiscriminate - catch using minimum fuel. Sounds efficient doesn’t it?

But how efficient can it be to fish out juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna, which are already at risk of extinction, before they’ve had a chance to reproduce? Killing silky sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks, both species at risk of extinction in the oceans: is that efficient? And let’s just say that a drowned sea turtle (nearly all species of which are endangered) entangled in your Fad is never going to get a tick in the efficient box from me.

Disrupting this business model is not an easy thing to do: we are dealing with enormous corporate entities whose overriding purpose is to optimise return on investment to maximise profit and dividends.

But when corporations get locked in to the tunnel vision of short-term return without protecting the resources they rely upon, then failure is inevitable – both corporate and environmental. Failure to protect species and ecosystems was a pathway the UK tuna industry was hurtling along, and which much of the rest of the global tuna industry remains stuck on.

The tuna industry is a clear example of where the corporate bottom line has bumped up against environmental limits.

It may be that we’re catching this just in time, where pressure on corporations from organisations like Greenpeace and supporters can achieve positive change in an industry where governance by states and tuna regional fishery management organisations has mostly failed to do so. Hot-off-the-press tuna stock assessments from the International Union for Conservation of Nature indicate that tuna stocks are in a bad and declining state globally.

Sometimes we need to listen to the disruptors, the people standing on the sidelines pointing at the house of cards. I have a two-year-old son whose ability to grasp the long-term consequences of his immediate desires and actions is not exactly one of his key strengths. But, corporations cannot be granted the leeway offered to the tenderness of youth. They grew up a long way back, and so must take their responsibilities seriously to the common resources they exploit in order that they, and we, can continue to make use of them. If we want tuna tomorrow, then we must act today.

Ultimately what we need is a future where oceans and ecosystems are protected and well-managed. And where they are exploited, this is done sustainably within agreed limits using best practice, without pressure groups and concerned citizens having to repeatedly tug at the coat sleeves of various governments, corporations and individuals to beg them to look at the consequences of their untrammelled actions.

While it may be somewhat entertaining to dress up in shark costumes to highlight a grave issue, it’s no way for a grown man to earn a living – I’d far rather be engaging in productive dialogue with people who can make a difference.

And that’s exactly where we are at the moment with the tinned tuna campaign. We'll still be reaching out to new players and sectors in the industry who may think they’ve ducked the headlights of this campaign, but a key focus for us now will be ensuring delivery of the commitments made by Princes, Morrisons, John West and the others.

This next vital stage of the campaign is all about implementation. We are in regular contact with the brands and supermarkets, which are often intimately linked together in supply arrangements and have giant parent companies with global reach.

These ongoing discussions will continue as these companies strive to achieve the targets they have set for themselves, targets that we will hold them to and that our supporters and consumers will also expect them to deliver on.

We have been gratified in our discussions so far to see the degree of transparency and commitment to deliver demonstrated by these companies so far. They are all aware of the damage to their brands that failure brings.

We want to not only achieve the change in the water that has been promised, but also bring our supporters into the process, keeping you informed, and identifying where you can play a part in monitoring and delivering this change.

These plans are under development at the moment, and so as soon as we get more empty toilet rolls and environmentally-friendly sticky-back plastic we will unleash them from the Greenpeace brainstorm-bunker nestled deep within the bowels of north London.

As a result of this campaign, we now all share a common enterprise to deliver this shift in the way we fish for tuna. We owe it to the oceans and the people who depend on its resources for their livelihood and primary sustenance to make a change. We’re all disrupters now, working together with brands, retailers and scientists to manage our use of the oceans sustainably.

Watch this (blue) space...

Find out more about Greenpeace UK's work on tuna and oceans:

>> Then there were none: John West changes its tuna to drop FADs
>> Fish Fighting for the oceans! But the battle continues
>> Hugh brings his Fish Fight back for one last round
>> Common Fisheries Policy reform: glimmer of light in a sea of darkness
>> Projecting change for our oceans in South Korea

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