Greenpeace and the good people at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight are right to hold Tesco to account for wriggling out of its sustainable tuna pledge (see http://tiny.cc/i9olcx) Cheap, untraceable tuna has no place on supermarket shelves if we are to save this precious resource from collapse. But consumers need to do more than simply ask for brands like Oriental & Pacific to be delisted.
A few years ago, I brokered a deal between Greenpeace and a large Ecuador-based tuna firm. As part of the process of building relations, my client agreed to investigate what it would in fact cost them to provide so-called ‘FAD-free’ tuna (caught without the use of fish aggregation devices). This meant working out how much fish each boat in their fleet would catch, and calculating whether the crew, fuel and additional trip length cost could be justified. It could, but only if the market price for the tuna in question increased by a factor of at least seven, as each vessel would catch far less fish.
Western consumers never pay the true price of their food to incorporate the environmental costs of production and tuna is no exception. Were the big operators like O&P to insist on FAD-free tuna, Tesco would need to be able to sell it on at about £14 a tin, rather than the ‘great deal’ £2 offer you would find in stores today. Consumers would never pay that price, so Tesco, and its fish processors, would need to absorb the bulk of the true cost if it was serious about marine conservation. The chances of that are, of course, nil. For as long as we insist on eating cheaply produced rubbish that takes no account of the price we should actually pay to preserve renewable resources for the future, the demise of tuna stocks, and much other ‘natural capital’, is entirely inevitable.