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Can Global Production Fill Pole and Line Tuna Demand in U.K. Market?

Greenpeace United Kingdom released a statement this week about the commitment made by some of the major U.K. retailers on moving towards pole-and-line skipjack tuna.
That should be a very challenging move considering that the top U.K. canned tuna suppliers don not practice that fishing method, which leads to questions such as: how much of the UK’s market is global pole-and-line production able to suffice?
Last year, Greenpeace published a tuna league table in which Sainsbury appeared on top of sustainable practices and John West at the bottom of the list. This list has been updated and now new developments in engaging supermarkets and companies on pole-and-line skipjack can be summarized as follows:
- Sainsbury’s: 100% canned tuna of their own brand is pole-and-line caught and it's increasing that amount from other brands;
- Marks & Spencer: announced to be currently moving all of their canned tuna to pole-and-line caught, plus they are the only retailers willing to extend this to all of their ingredient tuna products such as salads, sandwiches, etc.
- Co-Op: 60% of its canned tuna marketed is pole-and-line;
- Waitrose: will introduce an own-brand range 100% pole-and-line tuna.
- ASDA: 10% of its canned tuna marketed is pole-and-line;
- Morrisons & Tesco: neither Morrisons nor Tesco have responded to repeated requests for an update on the sourcing of their tinned tuna.
- Pret a Manger: said to be also moving to pole-and-line tuna for their sandwiches.
Regarding the two leading national brands John West & Princes, Greenpeace stated:
“As the two biggest traders in tinned tuna, these companies have the power to make a real difference. We are continuing dialogue with them, and both are looking at the sustainability of their business, but as yet have made no changes to their practices. That means these two giant brands still rely on tuna caught by indiscriminate purse seining, using Fish Aggregation Devices”.


U.K. top canned tuna suppliers include Mauritius, Ghana, Philippines, Seychelles,
Ecuador and Thailand - countries processing tuna almost 100% caught by purse-seining.
The Maldives, one of the suppliers, well-known for its pole-and-line activity and “we catch one by one” logo appears to have exported only 1.089 M/T of canned tuna to United Kingdom last year.
Less than 5% of the world tuna catches is done by pole-and-liners nowadays. A shift to the method would implicate a major financial investment in training and personnel by fishing companies and the construction of new vessels fitted for pole and line fishing. In the Solomon Islands recently P&L vessels were decommissioned because they were no longer productive. On top of that, many local fishermen are not willing to do the hard and low paid work of catching one by one.
Processing pole-and-line tuna profitably has been one the greatest challenges for the Maldives and Solomon Islands over the last decade. Both countries are often looking for new investors, and are both on the edge of closing down canneries - e.g. Soltai and MIFCO - and reporting years of continued losses in the tuna fishing sector.
One of the major problems of pole and line fisheries has been that they can only take place in coastal regions - close to shore. Unlike purse seiners, P&L vessels cannot move across thousands of miles of ocean looking for skipjack schools. When there is no fish in their coastal zones for weeks or even months, coastal fishermen cannot deliver their tuna to the canneries, making such a processing plant quite inefficient and unreliably in its deliveries.
By moving to pole-and-line tuna, U.K. retailers will not only move to a more sustainable option, but will have to take into consideration the social aspects of reviving a tiny industry which is currently going through a very difficult financial moment.
On top of that, the supermarkets will have to make sure their consumers are willing to pay more for their canned tuna because of sustainability and social responsibility. That will prove a major challenge in a very competitive market - where so far canned tuna often has been sold as a loss leader.