Towards #justtuna: How a big Canadian brand is working to clean up its sourcing

Ocean Brands, a major Canadian seafood company, is taking some big steps forward to complete its sustainability vision for its Ocean’s brand tuna.

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Towards #justtuna: How a big Canadian brand is working to clean up its sourcing

Significant change is afoot in the canned tuna aisles of supermarkets across Canada. Real change. Ocean Brands, a major Canadian seafood company, is taking some big steps forward to complete its sustainability vision for its Ocean’s brand tuna. Retailers and tuna brands, take note - this is what actual implementation of a sustainability commitment looks like.
Today, Ocean Brands, owner Ocean’s and Gold Seal brands, announced the following:

  • Starting end of 2016, completed by 2017, all “light meat” and value added (flavoured tuna, etc) Ocean’s brand products will be sourced from pole and line and purse seines fishing on free schools (FAD-free!)
  • Suppliers will sign and adhere to a new Supplier Code of Conduct to ensure all products meet a higher social responsibility standard
  • All supply chains will be audited by a third party against the company’s social responsibility standards

This all sounds good, but what does it really mean? Let’s break it down.
Better for our oceans
For those following the Esperanza in the tuna fishing grounds of the Indian Ocean, you will have seen lots of images of sharks and other beautiful creatures swimming around bizarre looking floating objects. Known as fish aggregating devices or FADs, these devices are placed adrift in the ocean to attract tuna. Often with the help of high-tech sonar devices, the FADs are later tracked down where large purse seine nets encircle them for the catch.
Tonnes of marine life also attracted to the FADs are killed each year. This includes baby tuna from vulnerable stocks, unable to reproduce before being caught. FADs also significantly increase the fishing capacity of the fleets, way beyond what’s sustainable. Thousands are deployed in the ocean every year, making it impossible to know the actual number being used. Many FADs then end up as debris, washed up on reefs, beaches and polluting our oceans.

By Ocean’s prioritizing sourcing from pole and line fisheries, a fishing method with minimal impacts on other marine life, and also going FAD-free for the rest, it is seriously reducing its ocean footprint.
Ocean’s isn’t alone in this step, more and more brands are deciding that FADs are not good for biz. Tesco and Waitrose in the UK are the latest, with food service giant Aramark going FAD-free and pole and line for its US business, and of course all major brands in Australia. Various brands and retailers around the world have introduced a more sustainable product line, and some leaders in sustainability only offered better options from the get-go. For our rankings and to learn more about those progressive brands, click here.
Better for industry workers
The other key piece of the responsible tuna sourcing puzzle is ensuring the fair, ethical and respectful treatment of the workers who bring these products from sea to consumers’ cupboards.
In the wake of the various investigations that have shone a spotlight on the global seafood industry’s hidden horrors of forced labour, despicable working conditions, and beyond, the voices are getting louder, calling for stricter standards from governments and businesses alike. As companies heed the call and create internal social responsibility code of conducts for their suppliers, it’s hard to know which ones have teeth and which ones do not.
Strong criteria relating to workers’ and human rights are a good start. However, if the company isn’t implementing it or conducting audits to ensure it is being adhered to, then it’s basically meaningless.

Ocean Brands’ plan to conduct third party audits on its supply chains will help identify whether its suppliers, like Thai Union, are in fact able to actually meet social responsibility standards. The more companies putting pressure on Thai Union to think harder about its global tuna supply chains, the more apt the company will be to chart a clear course for how it intends to deliver on more its buyers’ requests.
What’s left to tackle?
For Ocean’s brand “light meat” products, things are looking up indeed. But what about albacore tuna products? And Gold Seal products?
Currently Ocean Brands is sourcing albacore from pole and line fisheries or longline fisheries using circle hooks, a modification to hooks that help reduce the catch and kill of sea turtles. While this is a great start, we encourage Ocean Brands, and other brands working to source more responsible albacore products, to prioritize more selective methods like pole and line and troll. But in the meantime, it is important to ensure sourcing requirements eliminate transshipment at sea, require observer coverage onboard all longline vessels, and that mitigation methods used to reduce catch of other species not only address turtles but other species like sharks and seabirds that fall victim to this fishing method. Transshipment also creates the conditions for human and labour rights abuses, so a strong social responsibility policy must consider this.
As for Gold Seal tuna products, those customers are going to have to wait a little longer. But given the company’s current momentum, Greenpeace is hopeful that a transition of this brand is on deck.
Green talk versus green action
As members of the global tuna industry prepare to convene in Bangkok for the InfoFish World Tuna Trade Conference, puffing their chests about all they are doing to save the oceans and source ethically, Greenpeace will be there with our greenwash radar on, challenging companies that are all talk and no implementation. We need real leadership, particularly from the world’s biggest tuna company, Thai Union, and its brands. Take Action Here.
To all those brands and retailers saying “but we are already sustainable”, “we are implementing our policy”, or “we can’t do it, it’s too difficult.” Try harder. Ocean Brands, and a growing number of companies, are proving you wrong. And tuna lovers are watching.
For Greenpeace’s official reaction to the Ocean Brands’ announcement, click here.