Tinned Tuna Update

Posted by Willie — 8 June 2009 at 4:42pm - Comments

Update, December 2009: John West introduces new sustainability policy »

Last year we published our tinned tuna league table, ranking the main retailers and brands on the overall sustainability of their canned tuna. Tinned tuna, which is normally skipjack (the most common variety), is a food cupboard staple in the UK, and we are the second biggest consumers in the world, so we can have a massive impact on improving the sustainability of the fishing that fills the tins.

As well as assessing the information given on the tins (some didn’t even tell you what species was inside!) we also evaluated the impact of how the fish were being caught, and the company's overall sourcing policies.

Our key concerns were that the fishing methods being used weren't selective, and were killing lots of other species like sharks, rays and turtles as 'bycatch'. Other casualties are other species of tuna, such as endangered bigeye or bluefin.

We've been urging retailers to move instead to sustainable and responsibly-sourced tuna. And by far the best option available is skipjack tuna caught by pole-and-line.

Our initial league table showed that Sainsbury's and the Co-op were leading the way in sourcing pole-and-line tuna, and that the big brands, like Princes and John West were the worst on sustainability.

Since last year we have been engaging with the supermarkets, and others in the tinned tuna industry, and we thought it was time to bring you up to date with some great news on developments.


Not content with being top of the table, Sainsbury’s have upped their game and increased the amount of pole and line caught tuna on their shelves. As well as 100 per cent of their own brand tuna being caught by this method (including the basic range) they have also recently introduced a new branded pole-and-line caught range, and been promoting the responsible sourcing of their tuna instore.

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer have announced they are moving all of their tinned tuna to pole-and-line caught, and are phasing this in now. On top of that they are the only retailer to go even further and extend this to all of their ingredient tuna (so that’s everything in sandwiches, salads, and ready meals) too.


The Co-op have further increased the proportion of their own brand tuna that is caught by pole-and-line; this now accounts for 60 per cent of their tinned tuna contents. On top of that the Co-op have been doing great work raising awareness on, and campaigning for, Marine Reserves – helping generate over 300,000 supporters for www.marinereservesnow.org.uk.


Waitrose have announced that they will be introducing a new own-brand range of tinned tuna soon, which will be 100 per cent pole-and-line caught skipjack.


ASDA have told us they are moving towards pole and line for a limited part of their range – equal to about 10 per cent of the tinned tuna they sell

Morrisons & Tesco

Neither Morrisons or Tesco have responded to repeated requests for an update on the sourcing of their tinned tuna.

John West & Princes

As the two biggest traders in tinned tuna, these companies have the power to make a real difference. We are continuing dialogue with them, and both are looking at the sustainability of their business, but as yet have made no changes to their practices. That means these two giant brands still rely on tuna caught by indiscriminate purse seining, using Fish Aggregation Devices.

Pret a Manger

And in a related move, the Pret a Manger chain has recently said that they too will be moving to pole-and-line caught tuna for their sandwiches,  having been spurred into action by seeing the movie 'The End Of The Line'. They are the first sandwich retailer to make this shift, and it has become possible at least in part because of the pioneering work by Sainsbury's and the Co-op in securing reliable supplies of pole-and-line tuna.


And there are other brands using pole-and-line caught tuna you can look out for in supermarkets and health food stores too, like Fish4Ever.

So, some of the UK retailers are definitely leading the way on tinned tuna, but others are still dragging their heels. All of this shows that consumer demand can make a real difference, and that can change the fishing industry for the better.

It's now easier than ever to find responsibly sourced tuna in cans or sandwiches in the UK – just look for 'pole-and-line' on the label.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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