Do you know if your supermarket sells at-risk seafood species?
Research has shown that overfishing coupled with the increasing demand for seafood is steadily depleting the world’s oceans. Destructive fishing and harvesting practices, such as bottom trawling, destroys corrals that took years to form and endangers marine life unnecessarily. Fish and other aquatic life don’t have ample time to replenish their numbers.
Supermarkets are in a unique position to help change this situation by engaging their clientele and their producers about the issues.
“The retail sector is a major buyer and seller of seafood,” said Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada’s oceans campaign coordinator. “They have a responsibility to the consumer to provide sustainable, legally caught and socially responsible products. They also have a strong relationship with the producers and have the buying powers to actually demand change.”
For the last two years, Greenpeace has been ranking Canada’s eight major
supermarket chains to see how well they fare in their seafood buying practices. The most recent report shows, for the first time, six out of the eight major chains are out of the red zone.
Loblaw is first on the list followed by Overwaitea Food Group, Safeway, Sobey’s, with Metro and Wal-Mart in a tie. Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and Costco are in seventh and eight places respectively; both are still in the red zone.
It ranked the eight chains on seven factors: the existence of a sustainable seafood policy, strong policy criteria, support of sustainable practices, product traceability and labelling, removing Redlist species from shelves and raising awareness.
Items are added in Greenpeace’s Redlist if they’re at-risk or illegally fished. Species may also end up on the Redlist if the fishing practices for it are harmful to the target species or other marine life.
Loblaw’s sound sustainability policy puts the company in the lead, said King who authored the supermarket report.
“Their policy is more comprehensive than other supermarkets. Loblaw has clearly said that their policy applies to all products in the store that contain fish products. That extends to pet food, cosmetics, and health supplements,” King explained.
They’re also creating awareness. They’re screening a documentary in schools on overfishing, and they’re engaging customers both online and in-store.
Costco is at the bottom of the heap and was the last major chain to adopt a sustainability policy, said King.
“There’s a lot of missing pieces in their policy at this point and it’s not clear how it’s going to fully roll out in Canadian stores. And it really hasn’t been communicated well enough to Costco members.”
Kelly Roebuck, Living Oceans Society’s sustainable seafood campaign manager, has worked with some of these retail companies helping them to establish sustainable in-store seafood programs.
“One of the biggest challenges overall is trying to find information on the items that you’re selling,” said Roebuck. “That means you really need to engage your supply chain. In Canada, the traceability and labelling law is quite weak when it comes to seafood.”
Traceability is crucial because approximately a quarter of the worldwide fishery catch is illegal. “That’s approximately 25 million tonnes per year worldwide,” said Roebuck.
Greenpeace said the supermarkets’ progress will be monitored closely until policies are fully implemented.
“The next real measure of progress is those deadlines—have they lived up to their commitments or not?” said King. Greenpeace has added six more species to the Redlist to keep the momentum going.
In the end, it’s not only the oceans that are going to benefit but the retailers’ bottom line as well.
“Selling things to extinction is not good business,” said King. “Their stock has to rely on indefinite supply. If they aren’t ensuring the health of the ocean and of their fish stocks, not only is it devastating to our oceans but they won’t have anything to sell. It’s good business for them to be looking to the future and not only making decisions based on short term profit.”
For a handy guide on which seafood to purchase, visit www.seachoice.org/page/resources.