Taking 400,000 people on a trip to the Indian Ocean
If John West’s owner Thai Union doesn’t start protecting the oceans and those who work on them, we’ll continue to shut down their supply chains, explains Tom Lowe, who has just returned from the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza’s tour of the Indian Ocean.
It was a sunny April afternoon when the Esperanza left port in Madagascar over six weeks ago. Its mission: to hunt down destructive fishing operations linked to John West’s owner Thai Union.
Perhaps because of everything that has been achieved since then, it seems longer ago. In these past weeks, we’ve hauled dozens of so-called Fish Aggregating Devices (or “FADs”) from the ocean – almost 100 buoys and many hundreds of metres of rope, nets and fishing lines.
We’ve paddled alongside local Malagasy fishermen and witnessed first-hand how they struggle to make a living as fish stocks come under increasing threat from industrial fishing operations.
We’ve stopped supply vessels deploying harmful fishing gear and we’ve confronted then chased a reckless fishing mothership (which was evidently gathering fish with highly controversial lights) from its moorings. And we’ve done that not once, but twice.
We blacked out those lamps using eco-paint to call “lights out” on this destructive practice. The very next day it was announced that the sort of lights the Explorer II was using to attract fish in the Indian Ocean would now be banned.
While we’ve been keeping up the pressure at sea, hundreds of thousands more people on land around the world are backing the campaign and supporting in any way they can. Activists in New Zealand shut down a Whiskas factory which buys tuna from Thai Union. In France, still more activists shut down a depot which packs John West and its sister brands (Petit Navire in France and Mareblu in Italy) ready for transport to supermarkets.
Then right before a major seafood industry conference in Thailand (the “Bangkok Tuna Forum”), delegates at the event saw the words ‘Thai Union: lead the change, stop ocean destruction’ laser-projected in giant lights.
In France and the UK, citizen research has shown us which vessels using harmful fishing gear are supplying tuna tins on supermarket shelves – and people didn’t stop there. In a coordinated global event, crowds cleared Thai Union tuna tins off the shelves in 135 supermarkets in France, the UK, the USA, Canada, and Italy.
In doing all this, we’ve made it crystal clear that if tuna companies like Thai Union don’t clean up their act, we’ll make business impossible for them – and we’ve done that all along their supply chain, from point of catch to point of sale. Here in the UK, we’re calling on Sainsbury’s to step up and take action on John West – just as other retailers like Tesco and Waitrose already have.
These victories have not come easy, and there is much more to do. But if you’ve sailed with us – on deck, on land or in spirit – thank you. You have made a huge difference to the lives of fishing communities, countless sea creatures and helped the push towards cleaner and more just ocean industries.
The collateral damage of destructive fishing is not just Tuna. This movement is not just the Esperanza. This movement is you – and the next wave is coming harder than ever.
On behalf of the whole Esperanza and Not Just Tuna team,
Tom Lowe is a Multimedia Editor for the Communications Hub at Greenpeace International.