Bentonville-based retailers Walmart and Sam’s Club are dedicated to delivering products that are more sustainably sourced, including key seafood commodities that provide protein, nutrition, and income for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
This week the pair announced stronger standards aimed at improving transparency and data gathering in the tuna supply chain to address issues such as accidental catch of non-targeted species, illegal fishing and abandonment of fishing gear, all of which continue to pose a threat to ocean ecosystems. Their enhanced seafood policy covers Walmart U.S., Walmart Canada and Sam’s Club suppliers and asks tuna suppliers to:
- Source exclusively from vessels that have 100% observer monitoring (electronic monitoring or human observer)1 by 2027;
- Source from fisheries using zero high seas transshipment unless the transshipment activity is covered by 100% observer monitoring (electronic monitoring or human coverage)2 by 2027.
Because of systemic issues like illegal and destructive fishing, over one-third of the world’s fisheries are now operating at unsustainable levels, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In fact, a 2019 study found that, because of these issues, around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened by extinction, including sharks, whales and dolphins. The seafood sector stands at a critical juncture today – accelerating action is essential.
The new sourcing requirements build on purposeful collaborations and a commitment to systemic change. Together, the updated seafood policy can help lay the foundation for a more resilient and transparent tuna supply chain that allows people and the planet to thrive. According to Mark Zimring, director of large-scale fisheries at The Nature Conservancy, one of our key collaborators, “The bottom line is that if we want customers to have confidence that seafood products have been harvested ethically, legally and sustainably—harvested without labor abuses or shark finning—we need granular science and compliance monitoring data from aboard vessels. This is where on-the-water monitoring fits in.”
Here’s why Walmart & Sam’s Club are prioritizing these two issues:
Observer Monitoring (Electronic Monitoring or Human Coverage)
Observer programs are important tools for fisheries management as they provide monitoring of commercial fishing activities and report key information on several key data points – including bycatch. Observer programs can be managed by people or through electronic monitoring devices (including new artificial intelligence (AI) technology). To improve transparency and promote better fishing practices, these programs leverage data and coverage of fishing activities.
Implementing observer programs is “a major step in the fight against illegal fishing,” says Michael Griff, director of seafood markets at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). He adds, “As a longstanding collaborator with Walmart, WWF is eager to work with the tuna industry to apply advances in electronic monitoring and related tools and ensure cost-effective transparency in supply chains that will ultimately lead to better outcomes for the ocean and for people.”
Zero High Seas Transshipment Without Observer Monitoring
Transshipment refers to the transfer of any of fish or fish products from one fishing vessel to another vessel at sea or in port. According to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, at-sea transshipment can prevent the collection of accurate data about seafood products and lead to illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing activities, threatening workers, consumers and the environment. While transshipment in any maritime zone creates risks, the risk of undesirable activity is typically greatest on the high seas. Comparatively, in-port transshipment with 100% observer monitoring promotes greater transparency and may even provide a range of socio-economic benefits, including local employment and lower costs of goods.
Eliminating high seas transshipment unless the transshipment activity is covered by 100% observer monitoring (electronic monitoring or human coverage) will increase transparency and promote best practices on tuna fishing vessels, helping to protect our oceans, better preserve biodiversity and support quality working conditions for people on fishing vessels.
Jack Kittinger, vice president for global fisheries and aquaculture with Conservation International, calls transshipment at sea “one of the leading contributors to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and can enable severe human rights and labor violations.” He adds, “We are encouraged to see Walmart taking a leadership role in this space and look forward to supporting both Walmart and their suppliers in making these commitments a reality. We hope such efforts will inspire other businesses to adopt similar measures that help contribute to global conservation priorities and adherence to international standards for human rights.”
Along with our goal for all Walmart and Sam’s Club shelf-stable private and national brand tuna to come from a Fishery Improvement Project or Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified source by 2025, these enhanced requirements will help build transparency, encourage best practices and drive continuous improvement by helping address systemic issues in the tuna supply chain.
This is a critical decade for action and there’s work to do together. Our associates, customers, suppliers, producers and NGOs are the backbone of this progress, and we look forward to continuing building on this momentum together.