October 20, 2010

Soup to Nuts: Sea(food) change
toward sustainability

To increasing numbers of consumers, sustainability matters, and local grocers are following their lead with new programs that trace a fish's often-winding path from source to shelf.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Whole Foods Market in Portland has launched a seafood program with color-coded signs indicating a fish’s level of sustainability. Green, or “best choice” ratings, means a species is relatively abundant and caught in environmentally-friendly ways. A yellow rating means there are some concerns with a fish’s status or catch methods. Red means “avoid” because the species is suffering from overfishing, or the methods used to catch it are harmful to other marine life or habitats. Whole Foods has already stopped selling many red-rated species.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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At Whole Foods Market in Portland, a green, or “best choice” ratings, means a species is relatively abundant and caught in environmentally-friendly ways. A yellow rating means there are some concerns with a fish’s status or catch methods. Red means “avoid” because the species is suffering from overfishing, or the methods used to catch it are harmful to other marine life or habitats. Whole Foods has already stopped selling many red-rated species.

Additional Photos Below

In the beginning, Hannaford cast a wide net, capturing 4,000 to 5,000 products on its shelves that are considered "substantially fish," including foods such as chowders. The list has since been narrowed down to about 3,000.

Parmenter found that some of the products on the original list aren't carried in the stores anymore. And he drew the line at things like anchovy paste in a fish sauce and clamato juice, foods that are highly processed and more difficult to trace. Those items are still on the list, but they are now a lower priority.

Reaction from suppliers has been across the spectrum. Big players in the seafood industry have seen this coming, Parmenter said, and in many cases were working on the issue anyway, because "we're not the only retailer asking them for something similar."

Smaller producers need more help understanding exactly what Hannaford wants.

"Everybody across the board has been supportive of the goal," Parmenter said. "What I've found is that the people working in that industry genuinely understand there's an issue and there are pressures and they want to do the right thing. I haven't felt there's been a lot of resistance, or people rolling their eyes or throwing their hands up. There hasn't been that reaction at all."

Whole Foods rolled out its color-coded rating program on Sept. 13. The ratings consider five main factors – the life history of the species, abundance, fishing methods, fishery management and bycatch, or the other animals that are caught along with the targeted species.

"It's a ranking method developed over 30 years," Duckworth said. "It's been examined by over 300 marine scientists and fisheries specialists, so we know it's a pretty good system."

Green, or "best choice," ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and caught in environmentally-friendly ways. Examples of green fish include striped bass on the East Coast and black cod, or sablefish, from Alaska.

A yellow rating means there are some concerns with a fish's status or catch methods. Bluefish and Icelandic cod are examples of fish that have been given a yellow rating.

Red means "avoid" because the species is suffering from overfishing or the methods used to catch it are harmful to other marine life or habitats. Witch flounder and Atlantic halibut are ranked red.

The ratings are updated every two years, so if a fishery improves its catch methods, it can move up from red to yellow or yellow to green.

CODE RED

Whole Foods has already stopped selling red-rated species such as Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks and marlins. Earth Day 2011, all swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries will also be gone.

Earth Day 2012, all other seafood from red-rated fisheries will be gone, with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will be sold through Earth Day 2013 to give those fishermen some time to adapt.

The majority of Atlantic cod is caught by bottom trawling, Duckworth said, "which is a large net dragging along the bottom, which obviously is quite damaging to the sea floor."

"We've worked with these fishermen for a long time," said Carrie Brownstein, seafood quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods, "and so what we want to do is see if we can work together to figure out if there are ways to change some of the fishing methods so we can improve issues like bycatch and habitat impacts."

Hannaford has a similar outlook. If vendors can't be in compliance by the March 2011 deadline, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be dropped right away – but they need to have a plan that will put them in compliance. "We really don't want to sever any relationships," Parmenter said.

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Additional Photos

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Whole Foods labels on wild-caught bay scallops and white shrimp indicate that they were harvested in Mexico and the USA, respectively, that they were previously frozen, and bear a yellow designation, which suggests some concerns with a fish s status or catch methods.

  


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