By January 2018, all canned tuna sold at Whole Foods Market will meet rigorous sustainability and traceability requirements that aim to reduce overfishing and bycatch, and support fishing communities, according to the Austin, Texas-based grocery chain. The new sourcing policy includes canned tuna items sold in the grocery aisle as well as the prepared foods department. Whole Foods Market says it is the first national retailer to create such stringent standards for canned tuna, which is among the three most consumed seafood items in the U.S.
Under the new policy, all canned tuna at Whole Foods Market must come from fisheries using only pole-and-line, troll or handline catch methods, all of which take fish one by one, preventing bycatch and creating more jobs in coastal communities. These fisheries must either be certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council or rated green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Safina Center.
Every supplier must also use Trace Register, traceability software that tracks each lot of tuna at every point from vessel to can. The traceability data are continuously crosschecked to help verify sourcing and prevent illegally-caught or unauthorized fish from entering the supply chain.
“We created this new policy for canned tuna because we want to lead by example in sourcing only the highest quality, sustainably-caught tuna,” said Carrie Brownstein, global seafood quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “Combined with better international fishery management, overfishing and bycatch can be greatly reduced when tuna is caught by these low-impact fishing methods. We are honored to be working with suppliers and partners who are driving positive change.”
Among the brands that already source canned tuna from one-by-one fisheries that are updating their operations to meet the policy’s traceability requirements: 365 Everyday Value, American Tuna, Pole and Line, Henry and Lisa’s and Wild Planet. These measures also will help importers get ahead of the traceability provisions in NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which has a deadline for mandatory compliance by Jan. 1, 2018.
Over the coming months, remaining suppliers will shift their operations and fishing practices to use the approved one-by-one catch methods, which are more environmentally friendly and offer more employment opportunities for fishermen worldwide.
“Since America is the largest canned tuna market in the world, shifts toward greater sustainability in this category can create a meaningful, positive impact on our oceans and our global fishing communities,” said Adam Baske, director of policy and outreach for International Pole & Line Foundation. “In some cases, these one-by-one fisheries are one of very few sources of local employment. The boats also make relatively short trips, enabling crews to return home frequently, compared to large industrial tuna vessels that may spend multiple months or even years at sea.”
Whole Foods Market’s new canned tuna policy expands on the retailer’s existing sustainability standards for fresh and frozen seafood, which also require that all seafood must either be certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council or rated green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Safina Center. Additionally, all of the retailer’s farmed seafood must meet its aquaculture standards, which include third-party on-site audits.
In 2016, Whole Foods Market introduced the retailer’s first Fair Trade certified yellowfin tuna, a designation that ensures better wages and working conditions for fishermen, and provides additional funding to their communities for improvement projects and investments, the grocer says. Fair Trade certification also verifies full supply chain traceability.
Whole Foods Market says these continual advancements in policies and sourcing are part of its mission to create a model that moves the seafood industry toward greater sustainability.