Whole Foods Market this week launched the first in-store wild-caught seafood color-coded sustainability-rating program.
The new initiative also includes a plan to phase out all "avoid" wild-caught fish species by Earth Day 2013. Through partnerships with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive sustainability rating system for wild-caught seafood.
"Our rankings represent authoritative science that examines the key factors affecting the health of ocean populations," said Dr. Carl Safina, MacArthur Fellow and founder of Blue Ocean Institute.
Both Blue Ocean and Monterey Bay Aquarium are considered leaders in the sustainability movement for their science-based seafood programs. Both organizations evaluate species and the fishing fleets that catch them, based on life history, abundance, habitat impacts, fishery management practices and bycatch.
Under the system, seafood is given a green, yellow or red rating. Green or "best choice" ratings indicate that a species is relatively abundant and caught in environmentally-friendly ways. Yellow or "good alternative" means some concerns exist with the species' status or catch methods. Red or "avoid" means that for now, the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats.
Shoppers can also go online and review complete species and fishery evaluations.
"At the end of the day, it's a team effort. Our customers, buyers, fishermen, and fishery managers can all make smart decisions that move us in the direction of greater sustainability," said Carrie Brownstein, Whole Foods Market seafood quality standards coordinator. "The new color-coded rating system is a transparent way to provide sustainability status information. This new program, along with our promise to phase out red-rated species, deepens our commitment to having fully sustainable seafood departments."
The new program expands upon the partnership that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council since 1999, and the new ratings apply only to non-MSC-certified fish. The MSC is the world's leading certification body for sustainable wild-caught seafood, and its blue ecolabel identifies wild-caught seafood products that are MSC-certified.
"The rankings on the Whole Foods Market signs reflect the efforts of seafood science experts. Each also represents information consumers can understand and trust," explains Safina. "This partnership will give seafood lovers the tools they need, where they need them--at the seafood counter--to make informed choices on behalf of ocean-friendly seafood."
Whole Foods Market previously stopped selling especially vulnerable red-rated species such as non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks, and marlins-- with the exception of Hawaii-caught blue marlin, sold only in Hawaii stores.
All swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries will be eliminated from seafood counters by Earth Day 2011. By Earth Day 2012, all other seafood from red-rated fisheries will be discontinued with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will be sold through Earth Day 2013.
"[Whole Foods'] decision will have a real impact on seafood suppliers and other retailers," said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "Its in-store education and commitment to phase out red-rated seafood will help raise awareness and improve fishing practices around the world."