Fishing vessels in Majuro Harbor at sunset.
Fishing vessels Majuro Harbor at sunset. © Chewy Lin

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Global tuna supply chain disrupted: New, sustainably-sourced product to line shelves of world's biggest retail chain

Pacific Island Tuna, a partnership between TNC and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, will soon begin supplying Walmart’s store brand canned tuna

Today, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, announced a groundbreaking partnership with the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) that is designed to transform the global canned tuna supply chain. Pacific Island Tuna, a TNC-RMI joint venture company, will supply sustainable canned tuna to Walmart stores across the United States. This partnership will positively impact the health of our oceans, as well as the communities and customers that depend on it.

Tunas are environmentally, economically and culturally important species for Pacific Island nations. Yet these countries, whose waters are the heart of global tuna fisheries, have historically been excluded from enjoying the full economic returns of their natural resources. The Pacific Island Tuna business model positions Pacific Islanders to participate equitably in global tuna supply chains and intends to direct 100% of long-term net profits back to Pacific Island governments and communities. The model, developed in collaboration with Bain & Company, also includes strict sourcing standards that match robust social and environmental sustainability commitments with best-in-class verification, meaning it benefits both people and planet.


Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has chosen Pacific Island Tuna to supply it with Marine Stewardship Council-certified canned skipjack tuna for its in-house brand, Great Value. Not only will this Great Value tuna provide customers with a sustainable option that is affordably priced, it also offers economic benefits to Pacific Islanders. And the timing couldn’t be better
given that the global demand for fish is expected to almost double by 2050.

The RMI’s economy relies heavily on revenue from the tuna industry. A significant portion of its non-aid income comes from the tuna industry, but this income represents a tiny fraction of the $26B global canned tuna market. Pacific Island Tuna enables Pacific Island nations to gain visibility to the full supply chain, from dock to distribution. As part of the Pacific Island Tuna deal, at least 40% of the company’s net income distributions will directly support community-based conservation and climate resilience projects, including the development and management of Marine Protected Areas and coral reef restoration. The other 60% of profits will be returned to Pacific Island governments.

Pacific Island Tuna requires best-in-class environmental and labor standards in its supply chain. A prohibition of the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) reduces bycatch of juvenile tunas and at-risk species like sharks and turtles. Meanwhile, dockside offloading—Pacific Island Tuna’s requirement that all fish passes through a port in the Pacific to verify catch volumes—eliminates the possibility of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and provides workers on fishing vessels the added safety measure of being able to leave the vessel if necessary.

These standards are validated through Pacific Island Tuna’s commitment to 100% on-the-water transparency through human observers and Electronic Monitoring (EM) coverage on all fishing vessels.
By following best-in-class transparency practices, Pacific Island Tuna further demonstrates its commitment to uphold the highest environmental and labor standards. Further, EM creates a powerful incentive for compliance: fishers are faced with the possibility of losing Pacific Island Tuna’s business if EM footage reveals that they have violated its standards.

“Pacific Island Tuna is showing the world that sustainability and profitability are not at odds, even in an industry that has been challenged by both,” said Gene Muller, General Manager of Pacific Island Tuna. “Through close collaboration between resource owners and retailers, we can shape a different, more resilient future for the tuna industry, and the communities that rely on it. We are confident that this model will be adopted across the industry, benefitting both people and the planet.


“We are honored to be working with an innovative partner like TNC and a large retailer like Walmart on this transformative business venture, which will promote economic and conservation development for our beloved country,” said President David Kabua, Republic of the Marshall Islands. “This approach maximizes benefits for our people, who will see investments in climate resilience, additional revenues for associated businesses, and the creation of new on-shore and on-water job opportunities. We’re equally excited about the catalytic impact this arrangement will have on the world’s fishing industry. We believe more retailers will follow suit and commit to transparency within their seafood supply chains, while also seeing the value of working directly with the people and communities impacted most."


We know that real resilience will come from deep, long-term partnerships that center on people and nature,” said Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Companies who lead in the next decade will be the ones who make long-term investments in true place-based, people-focused partnerships that drive transparent and resilient supply chains, environmental resilience, and socio-economic opportunity for those who rely on and care for nature.  We hope that Pacific Island Tuna’s exemplary sustainability practices will be adopted in fisheries all over the world, as a vital step towards helping our oceans at a critical moment for their health and protection."

“Sourcing from Pacific Island Tuna has a number of benefits for people and the planet – and is a good business decision for us. Our customers want us to provide affordable, consistent, quality products and to help improve supply chains to promote environmental and social sustainability. This collaboration aims to raise the bar on sustainable tuna sourcing and aligns well with our commitment to regenerative practices,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, EVP and Chief Sustainability Officer, Walmart Inc., and President, Walmart Foundation.

“We are excited by the progress Pacific Island Tuna has made so far, and even more excited by its future potential,” said Sasha Duchnowski, a partner at Bain & Company. “From the outset, our goal has been to design and implement a business model that demonstrates that the tuna industry can operate much more sustainably and transparently, and be economically attractive for industry participants and consumers. We hope that Pacific Island Tuna is not only a success in its own right, but also a lighthouse for the tuna industry or any other company looking to develop more sustainable, inclusive, and healthy food systems.”

The Pacific Island Tuna co-operative model plans to expand to include other Pacific Island Nations in the future. The Pacific Island Tuna model will force the market to ask itself big questions about supply chain resilience in an era in which consumer expectations and on-the-water conditions become increasingly dynamic. We are convinced that these methods will work, and be adopted by others. By delivering best-in-class environmental, labor, and traceability standards, this partnership seeks to raise the bar for the industry and showcase how it is possible for corporate house-branded labels to benefit the communities responsible for stewarding the resources on which supply chain resilience depends.

 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.