UK, EU Moves Toward Sustainable Fishing

Canned tuna producer John West, which produces a third of the tuna sold in the UK, reached an agreement with Greenpeace to shift to more sustainable methods of fishing by the end of 2016.

John West, the last of the major UK tuna companies to do so, makes the UK the world’s most sustainable tinned tuna market, Greenpeace says.

All of the UK’s major canned tuna companies and supermarket brands have now promised to stop using fishing methods and selling fish that are responsible for high levels of bycatch.

They are also backing the creation of marine reserves in the Pacific, and have promised not to buy tuna from the area known as the Pacific Commons.

The shift to greener tinned tuna is expected to have a huge effect around the world, as the UK is the world’s second largest consumer of tinned tuna and many of the companies involved, such as Princes – owned by Mitsubishi – and Asda – owned by Walmart -are part of global corporate giants.

John West is owned by the world’s largest seafood producing company, Thai Union. It joins UK companies Princes, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Tesco, the Co-op and Morrisons, who have already ditched tuna fishing methods that use vast nets called ‘purse seines’ along with Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs).

FADs are floating objects, often equipped with satellite-linked sonar devices, around which tuna instinctively gather, but also attract sharks, juvenile tuna and turtles, all of which are scooped up by fishing nets and mostly discarded as waste.

On average, 1 kilogram of other species are caught for every 9 kilograms of tuna, Greenpeace says. By switching to FAD-free and pole and line fishing, bycatch can be reduced 90%.

Earlier this month, scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature warned that five of the eight species of tuna are at risk of extinction.

"This is great news for sharks and other marine life," says John Sauven, Greenpeace UK Executive Director. "Just a few months ago, only a minority of tinned tuna retailers had cleaned up their act, but in a short amount of time there’s been a groundbreaking shift across the tinned tuna industry."

As part of the implementation of the new tuna sourcing program, from September 2011, John West will roll out a new range of pole-and-line sourced tuna products, as well as a range of salmon, mackerel and sardines, which will be certified to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards.

Over the coming months Greenpeace says it will maintain pressure on John West’s owner, MW Brands, to extend its new UK policy to the tinned tuna it sells in other countries.

"This move is hugely important beyond the UK too, because it means that changes will have to happen at sea. We should now start to see a real shift towards greener tinned tuna around the world in the very near future," adds Sauven. "Marine reserves in the Pacific Commons would provide much needed protection for fish stocks, the oceans and the millions of people dependent on them for food and jobs."

Greenpeace is campaigning globally for fishing industry reform and for a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans.

EU Plans Overhaul of Fishing Policy

Every 10 years, the EU reviews its fisheries policy. Its latest proposal, released last week, has a lofty goal: the industry will reach sustainable levels by 2015.

It requires an end to by-catch and creates a tradeable market for fishing rights to be enforced by individual countries.

Scientific studies have long pointed to waning fishing stocks – about 90% of the world’s largest predator fishes are gone. Only eight of 136 fish stocks in European waters will be at sustainable levels in 2022 if no action is taken, says Maria Damanaki, EU’s commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries.

"If we don’t make structural changes to the way we do business now," she told the NY Times, "we will lose one fish stock after the other. I want to break this vicious circle."

Scientists and environmental groups are concerned that the policy doesn’t address the overcapacity of the fishing fleet or the subsidies doled out to the industry, which amount to over $1 billion a year.

"It’s absolutely not clear how they intend to allocate the rights," says Markus Knigge, a fisheries policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group. "What you want is for the most ecologically sustainable fisheries to end up with the rights." They fear that large fishing operations could crowd out small coastal fisheries.

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