Tesco, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have voiced major concerns about tuna that is certified as “sustainable” despite being caught by trawlers that also haul in turtles, sharks and other protected species.
Both Tesco and Waitrose continue to stock own-brand and John West tuna which comes from fisheries which allow the controversial practice, MPs said on Wednesday.
Tesco, Waitrose and M&S wrote to the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries around the world and stamps products with its “blue tick” sustainability logo, after meeting a cross-party group of MPs concerned about the issue last week.
The MSC has certified fish from a number of fisheries around the world which are known as “compartmentalised”. This means that vessels and crew can use their nets to catch tuna “sustainably” – receiving MSC certification – and then on the same day, haul in tuna along with protected species.
MPs including Zac Goldsmith and John McNally, SNP spokesperson on the environment, on Wednesday reiterated their concerns that this practice is unsustainable and called on the MSC to close the loophole.
Waitrose stocks tuna from a major compartmentalised fishery in the Western and Central Pacific, while Tesco sells own-label tuna from another compartmentalised fishery near the Solomon Islands.
Sainsbury’s also stocks tuna originating from the fisheries concerned, according to MPs. A spokesperson for the supermarket said it did not source tuna in this way.
M&S detailed its concerns several weeks ago but currently has no tuna from compartmentalised fisheries in store. However, it does stock MSC-certified products.
The MSC Board of Trustees was due to meet in London on Wednesday to discuss the problem, including the recertification of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the world’s largest tuna fishery. PNA is compartmentalised and provides around half of the world’s skipjack tuna – the type most commonly chopped up and sold in tins.
The MSC is then expected to publish its latest assessment on sustainable fishing later this week following a consultation with representatives of fisheries as well as NGOs and other stakeholders.
Mr Goldsmith welcomed Tesco, Waitrose and M&S taking action on the issue and said he hoped Sainsbury’s would follow suit.
“The big supermarkets are aware of the questionable practices taking place in these tuna fisheries and they need to take responsibility for products they are selling,” he said.
“The MSC has been a hugely important tool in the fight to save our oceans, but compartmentalisation of these major tuna fisheries threatens to erode trust and destroy its brand. That would be bad for the whole industry.”
Fellow Conservative MP James Heappey said supermarkets may have to review their association with the MSC if the situation is not rectified.
“The MSC must take this opportunity to correct this loophole in their standard to ensure consumer confidence in the 'blue tick',” he said.
The MSC’s technical panel recommended to the organisation’s board that it close the compartmentalisation loophole in a meeting at the end of last year. The panel noted that it had seen evidence of increasing numbers of incidents of boats catching fish in sustainable and unsustainable ways.
SNP environment spokesperson Mr McNally accused supermarkets of “burying their heads in the sand” when it comes to sustainable fishing and said they had a duty of care to their customers to ensure MSC-certified products match up their claims.
“It is time they get on the right side of the argument in the interest of the MSC, retailers and consumers,” Mr McNally said.
A Tesco spokesperson said, “We fully support the work the MSC is doing to engage stakeholders to identify opportunities to strengthen the MSC Standard.”
A Waitrose spokesperson said the company does not use boats which carry out compartmentalised fishing for any of its own-label products.
Tuna products sourced from compartmentalised fisheries:
Tesco & Sainsbury's (Princes) PNA
Tesco (own brand) Tri-Marine Fishery - Solomon Islands
Waitrose (John West) Tri-Marine Fishery - Western and Central Pacific
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