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Greenpeace USA Releases Second Annual Canned Tuna Rankings

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Greenpeace USA released its second annual canned tuna rankings this week, bringing both good and bad news. Some companies moved up significantly in the rankings by offering their customers more ethical products. But others faltered.

While the U.S. is the largest canned tuna market in the world, it has “failed miserably to offer responsibly-caught options,” Greenpeace Oceans campaigner David Pinsky told TriplePundit. But he said the latest rankings offer a glimmer of hope that the canned tuna industry can be sustainable.

“This latest ranking is a hopeful sign,” Pinsky told us. “A growing number of retailers are realizing that it's good for business to offer more sustainable and ethical canned tuna.”

Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist hold the most market share of American canned tuna. And unfortunately, all three slipped in the Greenpeace rankings.

Chicken of the Sea is owned by Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company, and it is the third largest U.S. tuna brand. Last year it ranked No. 11 our of 20 companies, but this year it slipped down to No. 14.

According to the sustainability commitment posted on its website, the company has a vision that the seafood industry will respect oceans, protect marine life, and offer “safe and legal employment for millions of people around that world.” However, the company does not address how it will provide responsibly-caught products.

Bumble Bee is the largest shelf-stable seafood company in North America, occupying over a quarter of the U.S. canned tuna market. It came in No. 17 out of 20 on the rankings, down from No. 12 last year.

While Bumble Bee publishes sustainability and social responsibility policies online, plus a way for customers to trace its tuna, Greenpeace says the company's standards “should be stronger." The company offers some responsibly-caught options under its Wild Selections label, but offers none under its flagship brand.

Starkist sells the most canned tuna in the U.S. and it ranks 20th: dead last -- the same as last year. One of the reasons for its poor rating is that the company states on its website that it is “committed to leading the global seafood category by providing great tasting and healthy products that are sourced responsibly.” Yet, it does not explain how it is protecting human rights or taking steps to make sustainable fishing a priority.

“It's now up to Chicken of the Sea and the other big brands to read the writing on the wall and commit to better products and policies that put the oceans and seafood industry workers first,” Pinsky said.

Leaders show the industry what's possible

Wild Planet, American Tuna, Whole Foods and Tri Marine top Greenpeace's rankings, and they show the canned tuna industry what is possible in terms of providing responsibly-caught products.

Wild Planet has stayed at the top of the list for two years in a row. Greenpeace calls Wild Planet “an eco-brand dedicated to greening store shelves and driving industry change,” and ranks all Wild Planet and Sustainable Seas brand canned tuna as ocean safe products. And it has a “strong, implemented sustainable sourcing policy,” according to Greenpeace, plus it offers information about its products online. All of the seafood it sells is pole-and-line or troll caught, two fishing methods that have minimal impact on other marine life.

Wild Planet has updated and strengthened its procurement policy since last year by stating its commitment to social responsibility. The company uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program's rankings of seafood as a guide in selecting product sources. Most of its products are rated green by the program, the most sustainable options, and it does not source any red-listed products, which the program ranks as fish to be avoided.

American Tuna is tied with Wild Planet for first place after coming in second last year. Like Wild Planet, all of its products are pole-and-line caught and traceable from source to can. Issuing a public policy increased the company’s rankings from last year to this one, Greenpeace says. On its website, the company states that it does not “source from fishing operations engaged in shark finning or other wasteful fishing practices,” nor will it source from companies that are associated with illegal operations.

Whole Foods moved up from fourth to third place this year. In March, the company became the first U.S. retailer to commit to selling 100 percent sustainable canned tuna. By January 2018, all canned tuna and tuna sold in Whole Foods stores will meet the company's sustainability requirements.

Under the new policy, all canned tuna must be sourced from fisheries that use only pole-and-line or troll catching methods, and be certified sustainable by either the Marine Stewardship Council or rated green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Safina Center. Every supplier is required to use software called Trace Register that tracks each lot of tuna from vessel to can.

Image credit: Wild Planet

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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