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Ocean Brands sustainability claim 'misleading', says top-ranked Raincoast

Randy Shore

The Raincoast Trading brand of Albacore tuna processed by St. Jean's Cannery is pictured in this file photo. (Cinda Chavich/Postmedia Network)

The Raincoast Trading brand of Albacore tuna processed by St. Jean's Cannery is pictured in this file photo. (Cinda Chavich/Postmedia Network)

The B.C.-based tuna company that topped Greenpeace's sustainability ranking is incensed by Ocean Brands television ads that appear to claim the title for themselves.

The Oceans ad claims “Greenpeace ranks Oceans as the most sustainable, readily available national brand of canned tuna in all of Canada.”

But the rankings released in July placed Raincoast Trading tuna in the top spot, and Richmond-based Ocean Brands in fourth.

"I was absolutely shocked that they would be so misleading," said Kim Stockburn, sales and brand manager for Raincoast. "I'm super proud of (Oceans) for doing really well and way better than in the past, but instead of just patting themselves on the back they tried to steal our limelight."

Sarah King, senior oceans strategist with Greenpeace Canada, conceded in an email interview that Ocean Brands' claim "could be misleading for people who may not have seen the ranking or understand the nuance."

"As the second-largest brand in Canada, and the third-top-ranked national brand, this claim is not factually inaccurate given their relative size and availability across the country, compared to the top ranked brands," she said. "Oceans is the largest tuna brand with a commitment to ensuring more sustainable and socially responsible tuna."

Raincoast tuna is carried by Loblaws, Whole Foods, Safeway and IGA, and has a growing market share in the United States.

While Greenpeace does not publish the scores of tuna brands in their sustainability report, King said that the top two brands — Raincoast and Wild Planet — scored "significantly higher than other companies in the ranking."

Ocean Brands president declined to answer questions from Postmedia, providing a July press release instead.

The release notes that Ocean Brands rose to fourth place in the Greenpeace rankings from ninth position in 2013 and says that makes it "the largest more sustainable, readily available national brand of canned tuna in Canada."

"Ocean’s tuna is carried across the country in major grocery stores, including Save-On-Foods, Loblaw, Sobey’s, Metro, Costco groups, and many others," it reads.

Ocean's "exaggerated" claims tend to undermine public confidence in the seafood industry and sustainability claims, Stockburn said.

Raincoast — owned by a consortium of five First Nations — was ranked No.1 by Greenpeace for the second consecutive time as its entire product line is considered sustainable. All of Raincoast's domestic and overseas tuna fisheries are Marine Stewardship Council certified.

Ocean Brands "teetered" into the top tier of Green-ranked tuna brands by offering tuna caught with sustainable methods, revamped labour standards and a commitment to reduce by-catch of other fish species in its albacore fishery, according to a statement issued at the time by Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace report notes that only the company's light meat products received a Green ranking, while "all Ocean’s ‘circle hook’ albacore products are rated Orange, and Gold Seal albacore products are rated Red."

rshore@postmedia.com