Whole Foods Market is hopeful that its new tuna sourcing policy will increase the availability of tuna that is caught one by one so that other retailers may follow suit, Carrie Brownstein, global seafood quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market, told SN Sunday at the Seafood Expo in Boston.
“Canned tuna has problems that we want to help solve, like overfishing, by-catch and a [lack of] traceability, and we felt that by setting a strong sourcing policy we can show that it is possible to source from fisheries that are sustainable and we can support more fishing communities that way. We hope that this benefits the whole market,” she said.
Under the new policy, which will be in place by January 2018, all canned tuna at Whole Foods will come from fisheries using only pole-and-line, troll or handline catch methods, which take fish one by one. These methods will prevent bycatch of other sea life and create more jobs in coastal communities.
The policy includes canned tuna items and tuna used in Whole Foods’ prepared foods, and requires that tuna fisheries 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, a software that tracks each lot of tuna at every point from vessel to can. The data are continuously cross-checked to help verify sourcing.
“Traceability with Trace Register is a critical step in combatting illegal fishing,” said Brownstein. “If you don’t know the supplier and fishery and the boats, you may be getting illegally caught fish. Without the traceability element it’s just a claim or a marketing tactic.”
Whole Foods already merchandises tuna that is caught via one-by-one fishing methods. Brands include its private label 365 Everyday Value, American Tuna, Pole and Line, Henry and Lisa’s. These companies are updating their operations to meet the policy’s traceability requirements. The measures will also help importers get a head start on the traceability provisions in NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which must be met by Jan. 1, 2018.
Brownstein said that any increase in price resulting from Whole Foods’ tuna policy would be about 10% and only attached to suppliers that aren’t already catching tuna one by one. Whole Foods has already discontinued brands that aren’t willing to commit to the new policy, she said.
Adam Baske, director of policy and outreach for International Pole and Line Foundation (IPLNF), which supports small-scale fisheries around the world, said that Whole Foods’ policy is precedent setting.
“There is nothing else like it in North America. It sets a hugely high bar for sustainability in tuna,” he said. “This policy recognizes that these are premium products and there is differentiation between this and everything else.”
It is IPLNF’s mission to help restore and create one-by-one fisheries in coastal areas for the environmental and social benefits. One-by-one catch methods employ more people per ton of fish than larger industrial operations, and these small fisheries tend to operate in coastal waters so the economic benefits remain local.