Princes Group reaches 50% yellowfin cut goal a year ahead of deadline as pandemic impacts sourcing


The international food and drink group said challenges remain in maintaining the cut, equivalent to 70m cans a year, into 2022 and beyond

Princes Group has announced it has reached its ambitious goal of reducing Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna sourcing by 50% on 2017 levels, a year ahead of its 2022 deadline.

Princes committed to the cut to make clear to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), its member states, fisheries and vessels, that action and leadership is required in order to protect the long-term sustainability of yellowfin tuna stocks.

The Global Tuna Alliance, of which Princes is an active member, had also been mounting pressure on the IOTC to urgently adopt a recovery plan for Indian Ocean yellowfin. In June this year, IOTC members finally agreed an interim rebuilding plan, but this still fell short of recommendations needed to rebuild the stocks within two generations.

Princes is now forecasting its 2021 sourcing will be approximately 16,141 metric tonnes of yellowfin, approximately 70m cans of tuna, a 51% reduction on its 2017 base figure of 32,768 metric tonnes.

However, the business admits it faces an uphill battle to maintain the 50% reduction into 2022, as the pandemic created an unusual set of circumstances that helped it to achieve its goal a year ahead of its target.

Neil Bohannon, Group Director for Fish at Princes, said: “As we all know, 2021 has been a unique year, and that has impacted our tuna sourcing in different ways. We faced periods of closures and reduced production at our Mauritian canning sites, and whilst we maintained our supply of products, our sourcing did reduce somewhat. We need to flex our tuna sourcing as part of our multi-ocean strategy to ensure we can maintain the 50% Indian Ocean yellowfin reduction next year.

Putting sustainability first is always a huge challenge – it takes commitment, action and a huge amount of hard work. We are not going to shy away from these challenges, and we would call on all our industry partners to have the same mindset. The IOTC’s rebuilding plan is a good first step, but the future sustainability of yellowfin tuna will remain at risk if a more robust rebuilding plan is not adopted.

We have 4,000 colleagues across our two manufacturing sites in Mauritius, with a wider economic footprint across the local supply chain so a great many jobs are reliant on us. Sustaining the seafood economy is reliant on long-term sustainable tuna and the IOTC needs to show leadership and take firm action. We will always play our part, but we are only one player is a much wider industry and everyone has to step up.”

Executive Director of the Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) Dr Tom Pickerell said: This is a very important announcement by Princes. Long-term action is urgently needed on the overfished yellowfin stock, and it is great to see an individual company making such significant strides in exercising their commercial leverage to drive change. What is crucial now is that the IOTC supports these efforts with a formalised and scientifically sound rebuilding plan – this is what the Global Tuna Alliance has been asking of all IOTC delegates. If properly managed there will be enough tuna for everyone – it’s not rocket science; a scientifically-led cut in catches now will rebuild the stock”.

At the IOTC’s 25th Commission session in June, the GTA called upon members to limit catch to 341,000mt, which the IOTC’s own Scientific Committee said would allow yellowfin stocks to begin to rebuild.

Yet – several months later – five IOTC member states have now objected to the plan, forcing the sustainability of Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna back into the danger zone, and compromising the efforts made by the majority of nations willing to follow scientific advice.

The interim rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna that was agreed at the IOTC meeting in June will come into effect on 1 January, 2022. However, objecting member states will not have to implement the conservation measure, and will instead be bound by their previous catch limits – the GTA calculates that they could increase the total 2022 catch by over 50,000mt if their 2022 catches equal their 2019 catches – far exceeding the scientific advice.

Princes has previously stated it is committed to only processing responsibly sourced tuna. Princes defines responsibly sourced as fisheries that are either already certified according to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or are involved in a time-bound Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) that is working towards achieving standards required for MSC certification. Fully traceable pole and line fisheries and catches made that are Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) free are also included.

Princes was also a founding partner of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation in 2009, and plays an active leadership role in challenging and promoting the organisation’s work and standards towards the long-term conservation and sustainable use of global tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting tuna ecosystem health.

Princes’ two tuna processing sites in Mauritius are MSC Chain Of Custody certified and both hold SA8000 certification for social accountability.