Whole Foods Market to Stop Sales of Unsustainable Seafood

Whole Foods salmon© Whole Foods Market

More than 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are “fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted,” according to Greenpeace. Since the 1950s, 90 percent of the large fish that top the menu--tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder--have gradually been depleted by a large scale fishing industry dominated by fishing vessels that overwhelm the ocean's ability to replenish fish.

What to do? As a consumer you can decide not to eat fish; or, you can make informed choices about which fish will have the least impact to eat.

If you’re a retailer, you might take the lead of Whole Foods Market, who has just announced that as of Earth Day 2012, they will be removing red-rated wild-caught fish from the shelves, and instead will only be offering yellow- and green-rated seafood.

  • Green (best choice): The species are abundant and caught in environmentally friendly ways.
  • Yellow (good alternative): Some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods.
  • Red (avoid): A species is suffering from overfishing or current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats.

Back in 1999 Whole Foods began a collaboration with the Marine Stewardship Council, which remains the chain’s primary partner for seafood sustainability certification. But in 2010 Whole Foods decided to build on that relationship by partnering with the West Coast-based Monterey Bay Aquarium and the East Coast-based Blue Ocean Institute to employ their color-coded sustainability ratings to assist customers seeking more information. The stores work with these two organizations, depending on region. The color-coded ratings are specific to individual fisheries (region/area and fishing method) from which the store is sourcing, rather than to an entire species. Fine-tuning to this individual level is required due to the complexities of the issues.

When the change takes place, Whole Foods will no longer carry trawl-caught Atlantic cod, octopus (all), gray sole (Atlantic), swordfish (from certain fisheries), tuna (from certain fisheries), sturgeon, turbot, tautog, skate wing, Atlantic halibut, imported wild shrimp, and rockfish (certain species: black, Californian scorpionfish, Longspine and shortspine thornyhead).

The company has not sold shark, orange roughy, and bluefin tuna for years because of the severity of sustainability issues with these species.

At a media event for the announcement, sustainability superstar and owner of Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant, Chef Michel Nischan spoke glowingly of the initiative, "As a sustainable chef for 30 years, I can't tell you how stoked I am that Whole Foods is removing red-rated seafood from their shelves."

He noted that there are ways to get around using red-rated fish, like using Atlantic flounder where you might use skate, using dover sole instead of gray sole, or pacific halibut instead of turbot.

Be creative. As Chef Nischan pointed out, “Your adventurousness can have a lot to do with saving the oceans.”

Image: Spice-crusted roast salmon with ginger beets.

Whole Foods Market to Stop Sales of Unsustainable Seafood
An initiative to stop selling red-rated seafood by 2013 had been launched a year early and will go into effect on Earth Day 2012.

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