Whole Foods Replaces Red-rated Swordfish and Tuna with Sustainable Options

photo credit Roz Cummins

On Earth Day, April 22nd, 2011, Whole Foods Market will stop selling all red-rated swordfish and tuna at its seafood counters nationwide. Instead, they will be sourcing swordfish and tuna from sustainable sources.

Working with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods strives to provide shoppers with transparent information about the sustainability status of wild-caught seafood, using color-coded, science-based sustainability ratings for all wild-caught seafood not already covered by the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies wild-caught sustainable seafood.

David Pilat, Whole Foods Market global seafood coordinator, reports that “the sustainability status information has opened a terrific dialogue at the seafood counter. Shoppers are flexing their buying power to prompt change and help reverse trends of overfishing, exploitation, and depletion in so many fisheries.” He adds that, “Whole Foods Market is proud of our partnerships with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, and with our shoppers, buyers, fishermen and fishery managers. We are thrilled to have found fisheries that can provide better environmental choices to support the ecological health of our oceans and the abundance of marine life for generations to come.”

Whole Foods Market’s skilled seafood buyers source tuna and swordfish from green- and yellow-rated fisheries such as those using handlines (a fishing method that uses a single baited line to catch one fish at a time), which have low to no bycatch.

One of the new sources of green- and yellow-rated tuna comes from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where fishermen catch tuna traditionally, using a low-impact pole and line. Elsewhere, most tuna is caught with nets or longlines, which can capture not only the targeted catch, but also juvenile tuna and large amounts of bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds, earning some of these fisheries a red rating.

Company buyers have also formed partnerships with a variety of small green-rated swordfish fisheries in the United States – in Florida, for example – and are looking for more. These U.S. day boats also use low-impact handline fishing gear.

“We are not only committed to amazingly fresh seafood but to making sure that fish stocks can be replenished so that we can keep fishing responsibly for many years to come,” said Scott Taylor, co-owner of Florida-based Day Boat Seafood, a supplier to Whole Foods Market. “We truly value our partnership with Whole Foods Market because the company has demonstrated a loyalty and genuine commitment to our fishermen, this process, and the environment.”

Whole Foods Markets color-coded ratings make it easy for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case. Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or “good alternative” ratings mean some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods; and red or “avoid” ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The ratings supplement the sustainable seafood partnership that Whole Foods Market has had with MSC since 1999.

“We’ve heard from many shoppers that these ratings have been a wake-up call,” said Conner Herrick, seafood team leader in Whole Foods Market’s Austin, Texas flagship store. “Shoppers have said that the visibility of the ratings at the seafood counter have provided a level of transparency that has helped them quickly zero in on the most sustainable items to purchase.”

Remaining red-rated wild-caught seafood will be phased out of Whole Foods Market stores by Earth Day 2012, with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will have an extension until Earth Day 2013.

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