Your Canned Tuna Has a Dirty Secret

A new report says dolphin-safe tuna may not be sea turtle– or shark-safe and identifies brands with the best environmental practice.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 9, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

These days, most brands of canned tuna are labeled “dolphin safe,” meaning the fish are caught using methods that don’t inadvertently kill them.

That’s good for dolphins, said Graham Forbes, the seafood markets project leader for Greenpeace USA, but it doesn’t go far enough.

“ ‘Dolphin safe’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘ocean safe,’ ” he said. “There are other species, including the tuna themselves, along with sea birds, turtles, and sharks, that given the scale of this fishery are caught and severely damaged by this industry.”

Greenpeace on Monday released a shopping guide to 14 canned tuna brands. The rankings rate each company’s environmental practices, as well as its efforts to support fair labor practices and root out modern-day slavery along its supply chain.

(Photo: Courtesy Wild Planet Foods)

Three smaller brands—Wild Planet, American Tuna, and Ocean Fresh—took the top honors. The group called Wild Planet “a go-to eco-brand” for its environmentally sound sourcing practices, environmentally informative labeling, and detailed sustainability policies.

The house-brand tuna at Whole Foods, the nation’s eighth-largest food store chain (and arguably the most visible corporate booster for eco-conscious eating), rated well for sourcing its tuna responsibly. Greenpeace put it in fourth place on the list, however, because it found that Whole Foods relied on suppliers to self-report about environmental impacts rather than using an independent auditor.

Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist—the three brands that supply more than 80 percent of the United States’ demand for canned tuna—were ranked 11, 12, and 14, respectively.

Greenpeace faulted StarKist for purchasing its tuna “from destructive fisheries that [kill] tons of marine life as bycatch.” The group charged Bumble Bee with greenwashing its record by creating a smaller, sustainably sourced label called Wild Selections to deflect attention from lower environmental standards in its primary supply chain.

“The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna in the world,” Forbes said. “But the three brands have not yet offered an easily identified sustainable product.”

In a statement, Bumble Bee chief executive Chris Lischewski criticized Greenpeace for “harassing businesses and raising funds for their own operations.”

Bumble Bee was “deemed compliant in 17 out of 17 areas of performance” on its last audit by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Lischewski said in the statement—a project Bumble Bee cofounded with “scientists, tuna processors and the World Wildlife Fund…to preserve the long-term sustainability of the world’s tuna resources.”

A StarKist spokesperson said that the company had no comment on the ranking. She referred a reporter to a statement from the National Fisheries Institute, a trade organization, criticizing Greenpeace for, among other things, using an “unpublished methodology” to create its ratings.

Forbes said Greenpeace based the rankings on a combination of sources that included each company’s responses to a Greenpeace-supplied survey; corporate websites; publicly available scientific and regulatory reports on fish stocks and fishery impacts on other species; data from regional fishery management organizations; and the information supplied by Seafood Watch, a project that offers regularly updated consumer guides to sustainably harvested seafood.

By buying the list’s top-rated brands, “U.S. consumers who care about ocean conservation can both send a message to the big brands and make changes out on the water,” Forbes said.