Waitrose has joined Tesco as the latest UK retailer to take seafood giant John West to task over its fishing practices, threatening to remove its canned tuna from store shelves if it does not follow through on its promise to improve.
The decision will pile pressure on the embattled tuna company — which is Britain’s most popular tuna brand, accounting for a third of the UK market — following last week’s announcement by Tesco that John West would be banned if it continued using harmful fishing practices.
Following a public campaign from Greenpeace that has seen more than 40,000 people email Waitrose’s managing director in a matter of days, the retailer has now told John West it has until the end of 2017 to meet sustainability criteria or face the consequences.
Greenpeace is now calling on Sainsbury’s and other UK retailers to join the call for John West to follow through on its pledge to end destructive and wasteful fishing practices.
The move comes as a Greenpeace expedition in the Indian Ocean is tracking down and removing harmful fishing gear linked to John West and its owner, Thai Union, against which Greenpeace has campaigned since October.
John West placed last in Greenpeace’s 2015 tuna league table. Despite having committed five years ago to source 100 percent sustainable tuna by the end of this year, the latest published figures showed that more than 98 percent of its tuna is still caught using destructive methods. This includes the use of so-called “fish aggregating devices” (FADs), which result in indiscriminate harm to marine life, especially sharks.
“When they buy a can of own-label tuna, our customers know that they are always buying a product which has been sustainably sourced,” said Jeremy Ryland Langley, Waitrose’s aquaculture and fisheries manager. “And now they will have the same assurance when it comes to buying a branded product.”
“With Waitrose and Tesco saying they’ll be off the shelves if they don’t sort out their destructive fishing practices, John West is facing losing millions because they thought they could blag their commitment to sustainability while doing little to improve,” said Hélène Bourges, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK. “Waitrose came top of our tuna league table last year and we know they take sustainability seriously. So it’s great to see them taking responsibility for everything on their shelves — including branded tuna products. Waitrose’s customers would expect nothing less and they’ll welcome such a move.”
In February, John West Australia, WWF and the Marine Stewardship Council announced the single biggest brand commitment to help end unsustainable fishing methods within the canned tuna industry in Australia. As a result of the collaboration, over 100 million cans — a huge 43 percent of Australia's canned tuna — of MSC-certified, sustainably sourced tuna will be in Australian supermarkets, the world’s first brand achievement of this magnitude.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for John West told The Daily Mail in October that while "John West is fully committed to the protection of the marine environment and to sustainable sourcing. Our overarching sustainability promise has not changed ... we believe our commitments are best achieved by employing a number of practices and innovations,” he added “we have found it extremely difficult to increase the proportion of John West pole-and-line tuna that we can provide at a price that consumers would be willing to pay.”
If John West’s Australian arm is activating authentically on its recent pronouncement, then it has indeed resolved this issue — proving it is possible to enact promises of sustainability in a way that makes financial sense.