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In an effort to continue its support of sustainable seafood practices Safeway brand skipjack (chunk-light) canned tuna will be responsibly caught using free-school purse-seine methods, the ghrocer said yesterday.
"Sourcing responsibly fished tuna is vital to marine ecosystem health. said Phil Gibson, Safeway's group director of Seafood. "We are pleased to include the canned tuna category in our company's Comprehensive Sustainable Seafood Policy."
Safeway will transition to the purse-seine method of fishing by the end of the year. Free-school tuna is caught by purse-seiners using traditional methods of spotting schools of fish using radar and sonar, while captains employ powerful binoculars to spot birds attracted by schools of tuna.
SVP of consumer brands Joe Ennen said the new sourcing policy is an important step in addressing the consumer demand for a more sustainably sourced product without compromising quality. "We are committed to building a brand portfolio that is innovative and gives consumers what they want,” he said. “We have always felt that the Safeway brand is the best tasting canned tuna product. Now we're excited to offer that same superior quality from a source that is more sustainable and eco-friendly.”
Safeway is implementing these new specifications at a time when the tuna fishing industry is finding better ways to address the significant negative ecosystem impacts associated with purse-seine netted tuna fishing, a method that employs fish aggregating devices (FADs). Safeway's move to eliminate FAD-caught tuna is part of the effort to make its branded tuna across the shelf stable category more responsibly sourced and to also enhance the company's "Dolphin Safe" tuna commitments made years ago to Earth Island Institute. Safeway is in the process of instituting additional specifications for responsibly sourced albacore tuna caught on longline vessels with improved fishing techniques. Safeway brand "responsibly caught" tuna is the first brand in North America to make this move.
Greenpeace has greeted Safeway's announcement with significant excitement. According to "Safeway's canned skipjack tuna specifications are progressive, comprehensive, and visionary,” said Casson Trenor, senior markets campaigner, for Greenpeace. “They address the dangers of fish-aggregating devices. Greenpeace applauds Safeway for stepping up to the plate and making this powerful and public commitment and looks forward to the company's forthcoming albacore tuna policy."
The specifications will be implemented over the coming year. By establishing this detailed sourcing plan, Safeway will be working with capable suppliers and verification partners who can provide responsibly caught tuna with full supply chain transparency.
"Safeway's new specifications for canned tuna perfectly complement the work we are already doing together on fresh and frozen seafood,” said Matt Owens, operations director at FishWise, a California-based NGO specializing in seafood sustainability. “Engaging with existing suppliers to drive improvements over time is emphasized.”
Safeway's sourcing decision is driven by concerns about over-harvesting of fish and the significant mortality rate of non-target (bycatch) species -- such as sea turtles, sharks, and pelagic fish -- associated with skipjack fishing using FADs. Fishing tuna without FADs can significantly reduce bycatch levels. However, verifying that a tuna source is not using FADs requires new protocols and building partnerships with stakeholders in ocean ecology. In the future, Safeway will conduct in-depth research towards bringing to market economically viable, bio-regionally supported pole & line sourced tuna fish.
Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway operates 1,681 stores in the United States and western Canada and had annual sales of $41.1 billion in 2010.