Sustainable Seafood Gains Ground at Your Grocery Store

Filed under: Commercial Food Practices,Food Stories |

LI-5Design&ManufactureGroceryStoreSeafoodAisle copyPolicies that support safe and sustainable seafood have taken hold on many fronts, including within national grocery store chains.

Regulators and Consumers Care

According to the California Academy of Sciences

“More than 70% of the world’s fish stocks are overfished, depleted, or worse—extinct—as a food resource.

“Many species of ocean life are under threat of extinction due to decades of industrial overfishing of the world’s oceans. Making the right food choices will help to ensure ocean health and sustainable seafood harvests. By making sensible seafood choices you can be a part of the solution to the global fisheries crisis.”

Activists Are Pushing Back Whittingstall

Back in 2010, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall  created Fish Fight, a movement to prevent fishermen from tossing perfectly edible fish back into the sea, dead. Dubbed a “national treasure, celebrity chef, and serious food campaigner by TreeHugger, Fearnley-Whittingstall spoke for many foodies  appalled by the waste. Eventually his  petition garnered some 870,000+ signatures from 195 countries, leading to 225,000 emails of protest, 210,000 tweets. Three years later, Europe’s politicians voted to ban discards.

Greenpeace has been at war on the seas since 2008. Equally adamant about deplorable fishing practices, the organization produces  its annual “Carting Away the Oceans” rate sheet that evaluates retailers who sell seafood. 


CartingAwaytheOceansGreenpeace’s CATO report has evaluated supermarket sustainability since 2008, and up until 2013, only Safeway and Whole Foods had earned the “green rating.” In 2013, the CATO report features three retailers—Safeway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s—that have earned green ratings.

In addition, The world’s foremost retail giant, Walmart, has introduced both fish aggregating device (FAD)-free skipjack and pole-and-line albacore in more than 3,000 stores across the country, making affordable and responsibly caught canned tuna available to the majority of the population of the United States for the first time.

But What Does “Sustainable Seafood” Mean?

afletch4141FishingforSalmon copyWikipedia says, “Sustainable seafood is seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans.”

On March 5, 2014, national U.S. grocer Food Lion implemented a sustainable seafood policy that covers approximately 1,000 fresh, frozen, canned or packaged products sold across the store. Here’s what Food Lion is demanding of their suppliers:

  • Food Lion’s suppliers will provide full traceability back to the source fishery or seafood farm for seafood products sold.
  • Wild-caught seafood will come from source fisheries that are governed by credible, enforceable, and science-based management plans that respect the amount of harvest to ensure seafood populations will continue to be healthy in the future.
  • Farm-raised seafood is certified and reviewed to ensure that production does not harm communities, workers, the environment, or human health.
  • The Gulf of Maine Research Institute [GMRI], a regional nonprofit organization that addresses ocean stewardship and economic growth issues in the Gulf of Maine through research, education and community outreach, will confirm fisheries that supply seafood are responsibly managed.
  • Monitoring and compliance measures are in place to ensure harvest levels are maintained within appropriate limits.

Who’s Playing in the Sea?

MSCEcoLabelThe Marine Stewardship Council (MSC),  an independent non-profit organization third party certification offers retailers a “blue label” to identify sustainable seafood products. Notably, MSC does not assess fisheries or decide if they are sustainable, but rather sets standards for sustainable food practices. Managing various certification and eco-labelling programs for sustainable seafood, MSC has offices in Spain, South Africa, U.K., Netherlands, Japan, Poland, Iceland, Germany France, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, and the U.S. The organization’s blog addresses the many facets of global seafood management.

GMRIWhite paper codGulf of Maine Research Institute

MSC isn’t the only player in the sustainable fish movement, of course. Food Lion’s science partner is not MSC, but the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. That doesn’t mean MSC is not in the picture, however. George Parmenter, manager of sustainability at Food Lion-Delhaize America told OurFoodnews that MSC may well be certifying some of Food Lion’s suppliers, though not necessarily all of them. “While we do not exclusively highlight or promote MSC-certified seafood products, we do recognize the high standards associated with this certification … In addition to MSC, we have evaluated and approve of several other certification standards, like ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) and BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices).

Who Else Is Getting On Board?

Across the U.S., the number of grocery stores using the MSC blue label have grown. In 1999, Whole Food Market was the first U.S. retailer to collaborate with the the Marine Stewardship Council to offer MSC-certified options. Today, Megachains that serve MSG labelled and other sustainable and eco-labelled products include Target, Costco, Kroger, and Whole Foods.

AmetxaClamShells copySome Voices Question Some Programs

Not everyone is convinced of a given organization’s value or role. For example, Gerry Leape wrote an article reviewing  an NPR series aired on “All Things Considered” in early 2013. Leape, an oceans specialist at the Pew Environment Group, one of the major foundations working on ocean policies, wrote, “We would prefer they didn’t use the word ‘sustainable.'” (Note: the podcast of that NPR program can be heard at the link in the article.) Still, according to the article, even the MSC’s sharpest critics say they support the broad ideas behind the organization and its stated goals.

AmandaRichardsOctopus copyFishing Statistics from Wikipedia

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOstatistics, the total number of commercial fishermen and fish farmers is estimated to be 38 million. Fisheries and aquaculture provide direct and indirect employment to over 500 million people.[1] In 2005, the worldwide per capita consumption of fish captured from wild fisheries was 14.4 kilograms, with an additional 7.4 kilograms harvested from fish farms.[2] In addition to providing food, modern fishing is also arecreational pastime.

  1.  Fisheries and Aquaculture in our Changing Climate Policy brief of the FAO for the UNFCCC COP-15 in Copenhagen, December 2009.
  2.  “Fisheries and Aquaculture”. FAO. Retrieved 1 July 2012.

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