In a new report released earlier this month, the environmentalist NGO Greenpeace has accused the global tuna industry of being “out of control” and emptying the oceans of fish, devastating other marine life and keeping workers in slavery.
The primary target for Greenpeace’s wrath is Thai Union Group, the world’s largest tuna fishery company, which produces the John West and Chicken of the Sea brands. Greenpeace announced it was launching a global campaign to educate consumers to demand that Thai Union Group address environmental and labor abuse in their supply chains.
Thai Union is no stranger to controversy. It has a truly horrendous reputation. In addition to accusations of depredating the seas, it has been accused of condoning the use of “slave labor” in its supply chain, allegedly by impressing luckless Burmese and Cambodian fishermen into service. In July, the New York Times, published an article citing a former slave fisherman who said he had been held captive on a vessel supplying a mother ship that was selling to Thai Union’s canning operation in the Thai isthmus city of Songkla.
Although it is a member of the United Nations Global Compact and a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, the conglomerate is considered by environmentalists to be one of the major forces emptying the oceans of tuna at a time when global supervision of the fishery continues to be regarded as ineffective.
The numbers of Bluefin tuna in the northern Pacific have been devastated, falling by 96 percent, according to research provided by the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center. Despite that, giant fishery factories are plying the Pacific, hunting for fish that have gone almost out of existence and awakening concerns of a complete collapse of the fishery. In 2014, the Japan Fisheries Agency announced it would cut the country’s allowable haul of Pacific immature Bluefin by 50 percent in 2015 out of alarm over plummeting stocks.
Tuna fleets employ purse seines –, giant nets that encircle whole schools of fish, and long lines, fishing lines that can be dozens of miles long carrying thousands of hooks, that both capture marine life indiscriminately and are among the most destructive tuna fishing practices, according to a similar report by the environmental NGO Mongabay, which estimated that as much as 35 percent of the catch from longlines may be bycatch – marine life other than tuna, which is nonetheless destroyed as well.
Overall Thailand is the world’s third-largest exporter of fish and fishery products, with exports valued at US$7 billion in 2010. Only China and Norway export more. Thailand fishing companies have improved the size of catches against what is considered to be almost a nonexistent regulatory system. Many species beyond the Bluefin are believed to be nearing extinction both in the gulf of Thailand and the Andaman sea as more and more trawlers put out to sea.