⬆️ Photo credit: Guy Reece.

At 8:30 on Tuesday, 21 May, a giant John West tuna can containing bloodied merpeople ‘bycatch’ was torn open in front of the Blue Food Innovation Summit, 5⭐️ Hilton Hotel, Great Suffolk Street, London. All around the tin can lay evidence of the drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) which had ensnared the poor merfolk before being cruelly canned by John West.

⬆️ Horrific. Ocean Rebellion tear open an enormous can of John West tuna to find co-incidentally caught merpeople inside. Film credit S. Staines.

⬆️ The scene gathered a large crowd of phones.

The giant can was labelled ‘JOHN WEST, TUNA CHUMPS’ and members of the John West PR team, dressed in suits, cheerfully watched the distressed merfolk as they munched their ‘John West lunch on the go’ Tuna Pasta Salads, waiting for their boss, Thai Union’s ‘Sustainability’ Director Europe, Chris Shearlock, to begin his speech at the summit at 9:50am.

We know that Chris won’t reveal to his audience how Thai Union (owner of John West) has made multiple empty promises to stop sourcing tuna from Spanish and French fisheries who use controversial drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) in the Indian Ocean.

⬆️ Don’t be a Tuna Chump. Chris Shearlock of Thai Union should know better than to pass off Thai Union’s supply chain as sustainable. There’s nothing sustainable about industrial fishing. Photo credit: S. Staines.

Unfortunately the ugly cruelty of the industrial tuna fishing industry will be missing from the agenda of today’s Blue Food Innovation Summit. Instead the focus is on spinning industrial fishing’s bluewash (ocean related greenwash) and ignoring the destruction of marine biodiversity, aided by the complicity of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), TESCO and the numerous speakers at today’s Summit.

⬆️ Don’t buy John West tuna. Photo credit: Guy Reece.

Today’s action by Ocean Rebellion also coincides with another significant tuna industry bluewashing event, the annual INFOFISH conference being held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 20-22 May 2024. INFOFISH is the meet-up of the global tuna industry, who meet to plan their annual carve up of the world’s last tuna populations, often with the help of AI, drones and other high tech slaughtering technology.

Back in London, however, the scene outside the Blue Food Innovation Summit is the latest in a series of interventions by Ocean Rebellion highlighting the use of dFADs by the Spanish and French tuna Industry, the chief suppliers of tuna to Thai Union. The merpeople represent the millions of tonnes of ‘unintentionally’ caught marine life ensnared by dFADs every year. This marine life is called ‘bycatch’, but really it should be called what it actually is – whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles (and that’s the short list).  

Ocean Rebellion’s Rob Higgs says: “Conspiring with Thai Union to overfish tuna, Iceland, Tesco, Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi are helping to drive these amazing species to extinction – together with all the whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles trapped and killed in industrial fishing nets and dumped back dead into the Indian Ocean. That’s why I would never buy John West tuna.”

Bycatch equals whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles

⬆️ Today’s bycatch is merpeople, tomorrow’s bycatch will be more rare and endangered sea life. Photo credit: Guy Reece.

Thai Union is the world’s largest tuna processing company and made a whopping profit of £124 million pounds in the first quarter of 2024, a profit surge at the expense of crashing populations of sharks, turtles, cetaceans and juvenile yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean.

So what exactly are dFADs?
Large parts of the Ocean are like vast deserts, places where the sun shines relentlessly on the water and there is no shade. Occasionally, in these vast deserts, there is some floating debris. It might be a raft of dead plant life washed out to sea, a fallen palm tree or even a dead whale shark. This debris drifts on the currents of the Ocean and beneath it sea life thrives – attracted by the shade and the small marine animals that take refuge there. And these marine animals attract predators, first small fish, then tuna, and with the tuna arrive sharks and dolphins. Endangered whales and turtles also seek the shade while on migration. These little islands are an oasis in an ‘Ocean desert’. Little pools of thriving life.

But now a lot of these floating oases are traps. Traps set up by an EU industrial fishing fleet fishing outside the EU. 

The fate of the Ocean depends on us all.
Our interventions depend on your support.

Fishing vessels rope together their own ‘floating debris’ using any plastic rubbish they can find like old fishing nets and buoys, pallets, plastic drums – anything buoyant. And in this junk they place a satellite buoy. The whole lot is then dumped overboard to drift in the Ocean and the fishing vessels motor off – to bide their time and wait.

The industrial fishing vessels don’t really wait – each vessel is in fact a massive tuna freezer and each vessel is deploying untold numbers of dFAD islands of debris in the Ocean every year. What they really do is constantly patrol the Ocean using the satellite tracking to visit the FADs they floated in the past – lurking until they’ve collected a community of marine life beneath them. 

And when the FAD has collected a rich and diverse community of marine life a large net is dropped into the Ocean and carefully pulled deep under and around the FAD. The net is like a purse with a string (it’s called a purse seine net) and once it’s in place the top of the ‘purse’ is tightened by a crane so that everything beneath the FAD is caught, and crushed, within a massive bulging purse. 

The ‘purse’ is hauled onboard and all its dead and dying catch emptied out for sorting. The fishing vessel is only interested in tuna but everything else is slaughtered too, the turtles, sharks, dolphins, everything. Of course this isn’t ‘on purpose’ so the fishing industry refers to the slaughter as ‘bycatch’ – a coincidentally caught (and killed) unfortunate byproduct of a lazy industrial fishing process. 

⬆️ The scene was littered with real dFADs and toxic plastic netting from the Indian Ocean. Photo credit: Guy Reece.

Canned Tuna
John West sources their shark, turtle, and whale-killing canned tuna from Spanish fisheries in the Indian Ocean. This tuna is sold by John West’s parent group, Thai Union, to supermarkets like TESCO, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl and Aldi for their homebrand tuna products, who then pass this cruel product on to innocent customers like you and me. These supermarkets excel themselves in their double standards, because they know that Thai Union has a dreadful track record – it’s very obvious. Thai Union, a Bangkok-based company, owns a giant tuna cannery in the Seychelles that processes unsustainable drifting FAD-caught tuna by OPAGAC, the Spanish organisation of frozen tuna producers. In 2017, Thai Union promised, in a joint statement with Greenpeace, that it would halve by 2020 its sourcing from industrial tuna fisheries that use harmful drifting FADs. But to date there’s still no meaningful action, Thai Union continues to source tuna from OPAGAC.

Ocean Rebellion’s Bridget Turgoose says: “Time and again, Thai Union and John West have broken promises to cut down on these horrifically cruel drifting slaughterhouses.  If you can’t trust them to keep promises, can you really trust the tinned tuna they’re selling you?  It won’t contain whale, dolphin, shark or turtle but it will have slaughtered some.”

⬆️ Help put an end to dFADs and destructive industrial fishing. Don’t buy John West or Prince’s (or supermarket homebrand) tuna. Photo credit: S. Staines.

Ocean Rebellion demands that THAI UNION / JOHN WEST stop sourcing tuna from unsustainable European Union industrial tuna fisheries that use harmful dFADs.

Ocean Rebellion also demands that European Union fisheries stop catching tuna in the Indian Ocean and allow fish populations to recover before it’s too late. 

The Marine Stewardship Council must stop certifying industrial tuna fisheries as ‘sustainable’ when scientists are telling us they are not.

And we ask the Great British public to please stop buying dFAD-caught canned tuna from John West (and Princes. Actually it might just be safer to avoid processed tuna).

The fate of the Ocean depends on us all.
We’ll let you know what we’re doing to help.

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