Tesco and John West publicly slammed for their role in devastating tuna overfishing

Ocean Rebellion action unveiled bloodied and canned merfolk - a metaphor for the terrible bycatch toll from the worst industrial tuna fishing practices

The Ocean Rebellion action featured dying merfolk - photo credit - Ocean Rebellion

At noon on Tuesday, March 26th, a giant John West tuna tin containing merpeople ‘bycatch’ was torn open in front of TESCO, Lower Regent St, London.

All around the tin was evidence of the drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) which had ensnared the ocean creatures before they were cruelly canned by John West.

The tin’s label read ‘JOHN WEST, TUNA CHUMPS.’ Members of the John West team, dressed in suits, cheerfully watched the distressed merfolk as they munched their ‘John West lunch on the go’ Tuna Pasta Salads.

While the John West management devoured their lunch a band of small boat fishers held banners saying “NO MORE FISH IN THE SEA” and “MSC CERTIFIED LIES” a reference to the lazy Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a U.K. registered charity, who still certify dFAD tuna fisheries as sustainable.

The scene is the latest in a series of interventions by Ocean Rebellion highlighting the use of dFADs by the Spanish and French Tuna Fishing Industry. 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 whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles… and that’s the short list.

Ocean Rebellion’s Rob Higgs said:

“Conspiring to overfish yellowfin and bigeye tuna, John West and Tesco are helping drive them to extinction, together with all the whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles trapped and killed in their suppliers’ nets and dumped back dead into the Indian Ocean.”

The satellite buoy part of a drifting FAD on display on Regent Street - photo credit - Ocean Rebellion

So what are FADs (or dFADs)?

FADs are marine traps set by the neo-colonial EU industrial fishing fleet.

Fishing vessels rope together floating debris using any plastic rubbish they can find like old fishing nets and buoys, pallets, plastic drums – anything that floats. In this junk they place a satellite buoy. The whole lot is then dumped overboard to drift in the Ocean.

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. 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.

The Ocean Rebellion action outside Tesco on Regent Street - photo credit - Ocean Rebellion

Industrial fishing vessels patrol the Ocean using Iridium satellite tracking to visit the FADs they floated in the past. When the FAD has collected a rich and diverse community of marine life a large net is dropped into the Ocean and pulled deep under and around to hoist all the animals out.

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.

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.

Tesco take note! Photo credit - Ocean Rebellion

Canned Tuna

John West sources their dodgy tuna from Spanish fisheries in the Indian Ocean. This tuna is sold by John West’s parent group Thai Union to pernicious supermarkets like TESCO, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl and Aldi for their own-label tuna products, who then pass this appealingly labelled product on to their unsuspecting customers.

These supermarkets excel themselves in their double standards, because they know that Thai Union has a dreadful track record. This Bangkok-based company owns a giant tuna cannery in the Seychelles that processes unsustainable drifting FAD-caught tuna from OPAGAC, the Spanish organisation of frozen tuna producers.

In 2017, Thai Union promised publicly in a joint statement with Greenpeace that it would halve by 2020 its sourcing from industrial tuna fisheries that use harmful drifting FADs. To date, no meaningful action has been taken by the company in this regard.

To their credit, Marks & Spencer is the only supermarket chain in the U.K. that does not sell drifting FAD-caught tuna.

Ocean Rebellion’s Bridget Turgoose added:

“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 tuna they’re selling you? You’d really eat that? It turns your stomach.”

Tuna fish populations are crashing

According to scientists, yellowfin tuna populations in the Indian Ocean are crashing towards collapse. They are in the 'red zone', which means they are either 'overfished' or 'subject to overfishing'.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) recently acknowledged that yellowfin tuna catches have in fact exceeded the “maximum sustainable yield” for well over a decade.

The most recent stock assessment showed that a 30% reduction in catches (relative to 2020 levels) is now needed to allow the population to recover by 2030. That translates into a catch limit of a little over 300,000 tonnes per year. In 2022, a staggering 413,680 tonnes of yellowfin tuna was caught.

Ocean Rebellion’s Michael Collins said:

“If going to Tesco and buying John West tuna means you’re supporting cruelty to whales, dolphins and turtles, and destroying Indian Ocean ecosystems into the bargain, then just opt out. Let’s make Tesco a no-go, because time’s up, and this has to stop right now. We can cut back on industrially-caught tuna, and go elsewhere for our weekly shop.”

Ocean Rebellion's demands

  • Ocean Rebellion demands that TESCO stop selling dFAD-caught tuna and John West / Thai Union also stop sourcing tuna from unsustainable European Union industrial tuna fisheries who use dFADs.
  • Ocean Rebellion demands that European Union fisheries stop catching tuna in the Indian Ocean and allow fish populations to recover before it's too late.
  • The MSC must stop certifying industrial tuna fisheries as ‘sustainable’ when scientists are telling us they aren’t.
  • We ask the United Nations Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to ban harmful dFADs at its forthcoming meeting in Bangkok in May
  • And, to all shoppers out there, now you know the facts, please don’t buy dFAD caught canned tuna or any tuna products from John West and Princes.


Photo credit Matt Mellen