Supermarkets Going BLUE
More and more supermarket chains are getting on the sustainable seafood band-wagon! Most recently, Whole Foods Market has stopped carrying red-rated wild-caught fish a full year ahead of their self-imposed April 2013 deadline, a valiant effort in the quest towards sustainability. Before this, they offered choices based on Marine Stewardship Council’s color-coded sustainability ratings, offering the customers the choice between green (best choice), yellow (good alternative), and red (avoid).
This new move will eliminate quite a few species from their selection, including Atlantic halibut, swordfish, tuna, and imported wild shrimp. However, it significantly raises the bar for all grocers, on seafood sustainability.
Although fishermen who specialize in now banned species like Atlantic cod, and now have to consider sustainable species, are angry with the decision, Whole Foods states that they are simply attempting to address the problem of overfishing, and that ocean stewardship is important to their customers and to them, according to a New York Times article.
Whole Foods is one of the first retailers to offer fish that is MSC-certified in 1999, presenting more and more selections of MSC-certified seafood each year. According to their website, they’ve worked with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium since 2010, in order to ascertain sustainability ratings on specific products. This policy change comes amid many supermarkets taking it upon themselves to think sustainably when it comes to seafood.
Last year Safeway joined forces with FishWise, a non-profit dedicated to improving the sustainability of seafood. They aided Safeway in forming policy in four areas: forming a sustainable seafood task force, supplier outreach, staff training and customer outreach, and aim to have all of their fresh and frozen seafood sustainable and traceable by 2015.
Safeway Canada has followed suit, partnering with SeaChoice, a coalition of Canadian environmental organizations focused on sustainable seafood. Costco also made the commitment, announcing in 2011 a new policy that eliminated the sale of red list seafood species, including Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna, Chilean seabass, grouper, orange roughy, shark, swordfish and several others. They have partnered with World Wildlife Fund to form standards for choosing fisheries. Big retailers such as Target have committed to selling only sustainable and traceable seafood by 2015, according to their website and Wal-Mart requires that all fresh and frozen seafood sold at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club be certified by a third party using MSC or equivalent standards.
According to Greenpeace’s “Carting Away the Ocean” (CATO) Red List a total of 69 red list species of fish have been dropped from supermarkets since the list began in 2008. In Greenpeace’s 2012 Seafood Retailer Scorecard, Safeway and Whole Foods were the first companies ever to get “good” ratings, while Publix and Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie scored the lowest. It’s a hugely positive step for supermarkets and we can only hope that more continue to follow in their footsteps.
Other grocery retailers like Harris Teeter and Wegman’s are declining to buy fish caught from Antarctica’s pristine Ross Sea, in an effort to take the “Ross Sea Pledge.” The Ross Sea is one of the least human impacted ocean ecosystems on Earth, and is an area of great environmental importance. The 1982 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources was established to safeguard the area. Dr. David Ainley talked about its importance in the Pacific Ecologist. A new group called Antarctic Ocean Alliance issued a call for a 1.39 million square mile, no-take marine reserve there. However, commercial long liners still fish for Antarctic toothfish, selling it to luxury markets as Chilean seabass.
Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner, Karli Thomas, believes that the addition of Harris Teeter to the “Ross Sea Pledge,” shows there is “growing awareness by retailers that the Ross Sea should be protected as a no-go area.”