The retailer’s magazines were each featuring sustainable seafood a month or so ago. They reassured me that the store in question supports sustainable seafood, and is working very hard to make sure that the fish they sell is indeed eco-friendly. I found out that Giant (a local grocery store) has a “Choice Catch” program and that BJs Wholesale Club is implementing a new seafood program with similar goals. Since a) we really like yummy fish, and b) we often shop at these stores, these flyers were of great interest.
Giant is a regional Mid-Atlantic grocer. They have been working with the New England Aquarium since 2000 to help ensure that they are truly buying fish that is sustainably raised or caught.. This has various aspects. One surprising one to this layperson is labeling—making sure that the labeling is accurate (selling illegal fish under a legal label is not unheard of). Another aspect is monitoring their supplier fish farms on various environmental criteria such as pollution, energy use, waste products, amount of contaminants from the fish farm, etc. They also don’t sell Chilean sea bass or orange roughy—both of which have been severely overfished.
BJ’s is newer to the whole idea of sustainable seafood. Within the past month, they have announced a commitment to sustainable seafood. Some of the elements are the similar to Giant’s—for example label integrity (they actually DNA test their fish), and making sure that wild caught fish are indeed legally caught (or least trying to ensure the legality of the fish). They also work with organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council and the Global Aquaculture Alliance. BJs has recently issued guidelines to its fish farm suppliers regarding enough room to swim, limiting chemicals, and preventing farm fish from escaping into the wild and spreading diseases into the ecosystem.
Another option for buying sustainably caught fish (at least in the Philadelphia area) is to enroll in Otolith Seafood’s Community Supported Seafood (CSS) program. It works like a farmer’s community supported agriculture CSA where customers pre-pay for the season. Every season, Otolith Seafood contracts with Alaskan fisheries for a set amount of fish. The CSS payments fund the purchase, enabling the harvester to have the capital they need to operate the boats and catch the fish. This fish is immediately blast frozen and shipped to Otolith for distribution. Unlike most resellers, Otolith will in many cases provide the name of the vessel that caught fish, and proof of its legality. The transparency is very impressive. A quick look at Otolith’s website gives one a pretty sense of where the fish comes from.
While it is important to be concerned with the environmental aspects of the seafood supply chain, social responsibility should be a part of it also. A recent Business Week article documented disturbing instances of fish sold in the United States being caught by crews who are essentially slaves. On the positive side, McDonald’s requires the supplier of the hoki used in Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to comply with a social responsibility audit including labor standards.
I guess the best way to make the whole seafood supply system more “sustainable” is to take some responsibility myself. This means making an effort to buy more sustainably sourced seafood than I did previously. Buying seafood at stores like Giant and BJ’s (among others) is a good start. Becoming more aware of these issues is another aspect. Asking questions in restaurants and stores is another thing I can do. Maybe I’ll even send a tweet or email to BJs’, Giant, or McDonald’s thanking them for having the programs they do. Talking about these issues with my friends is another idea. This may seem like only a little something. However, if many people do a little something, the combined result is an awful lot of something happening in the marketplace.
Otolith Seafood Blog:
Business Week Article