In late 2014 we started an ambitious partnership with seafood business John West and their owner, Thai Union Europe (TUE), with the aim of protecting our oceans through more sustainable fishing practices. We’re reflecting on all the progress we’ve made and the important work still ahead of us.
The warm waters and delicate coral reefs along Africa’s east coast provide food and livelihoods for millions of people. They’re also home to a stunning variety of wildlife, from tiny clownfish to whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.
Further out into the Indian Ocean is one of John West’s key tuna fisheries. Because of this connection, our partnership with John West includes a donation from the company to support our conservation work with coastal communities in the region.
We made the above film to take you on a journey to Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania to visit one of these communities. It shows the lengths they have to go just to provide food for their families and also their deep interdependence with the ocean.
Making tuna sustainable
John West’s support for our conservation project in East Africa is just one part of our partnership together. Our overall aim is for all John West and TUE products sold across Europe to be sourced from fisheries that meet the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards, or are on the way to doing so through credible Fishery or Aquaculture Improvement Projects (FIPs or AIPs).
It’s a big goal – transforming a complex international seafood business takes time, particularly when you’re dealing with migratory tuna species sourced from a number of different fisheries around the world. But thanks to the efforts of WWF’s seafood experts, Thai Union’s team and many other stakeholders, we’ve seen some great progress and it’s accelerating.
We’ve stepped up to this challenge because it’s impossible to protect the world’s ocean habitats and wildlife without engaging with the seafood industry.
The world’s oceans are under greater pressure than at any other time in human history, facing a range of threats from unsustainable fishing, pollution and climate change.
Around 60% of all the world’s commercial fisheries are fished at their limit and around 30% are over fished. Assessments predict that some tuna populations are under significant pressure from fishing, which, if not managed correctly, could result in these stocks collapsing.
Badly managed fisheries aren’t just devastating to the species being targeted. Certain fishing methods can result in a significant amount of bycatch, where non-target and threatened species like sharks, rays and turtles are caught and killed. Ocean habitats can also be damaged by pollution, for example when floating devices made from inorganic materials which are used to attract tuna are abandoned to litter our seas and coasts.
Thankfully it’s not just us at WWF and our supporters who want to change this. John West understand that their business depends on maintaining healthy oceans and healthy stocks of tuna. So we’re working together in partnership to make improvements in the industry.
Moving forward with FIPs
One of the most important ways John West is transforming its supply chains is through Fishery Improvement Projects, or ‘FIPs’. They’re collaborations between all the stakeholders in a particular fishery – including fishing vessel operators, government-run fishing authorities, processors and non-governmental organisations – to make specific improvements to a fishery, with the ultimate aim of achieving the MSC standard.
We’ve been hard at work with John West developing FIPs which now cover the majority of their tuna supply. The largest FIP (by volume of tuna) is in the Indian Ocean, which focuses on purse seine caught skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna. The FIP was launched in April 2017 and participants include the Seychelles and Mauritian governments, as well as the EU and local commercial tuna fishing vessels (you can read more about the Indian Ocean FIP here).
The Indian Ocean FIP is connected to the conservation project in our film. While John West doesn’t source from small fisheries like the one we filmed on Mafia Island, our project supports the FIP because collecting more data on the tuna being caught along the coast will help us better manage tuna in the ocean overall.
Another FIP has been launched in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, focusing on the purse seine tropical tuna industry that operates from the port of Tema in Ghana. We’re also now negotiating FIPs for pole and line tuna fisheries in Brazil, Ghana and Senegal.
With all the stakeholders and complex policies and processes involved, these are not overnight fixes – the journey for a FIP to be recognised as sustainable can take up to five years. We’ll be publishing details and reporting impacts for all these projects as they progress. In fact, our latest annual progress report for the partnership has just been published here.
We’re all connected by the ocean
From large commercial tuna fisheries supplying the European market to small-scale fisheries on the East African coast, we’re all connected by a dependence on healthy oceans.
As we were making our film, we asked one of the Mafia Island fishermen Haji Haji about the importance of the conservation project. His response sums up the vision for what TUE and WWF want to achieve across the whole of our partnership: “If we overfish we will be lost. Let’s conserve the ocean for our own use and for the benefit of the next generation. If we protect the ocean, the ocean will protect us.”
WWF is building a future where people and nature thrive by helping businesses work in ways that protect the natural world they depend on. For news and updates on corporate sustainability follow WWF on LinkedIn and subscribe to our business newsletter.