by Craig Weatherby
Last week, the eco-activists at Greenpeace ranked the nation's major supermarket chains according to how much of their fish and seafood is harvested sustainably.
We regret the report's tendency to assign Greenpeace an unearned role as sole arbiter of sustainability.
But overall, we find their findings on target.
It came as little surprise that even the highest ranked chain—Whole Foods Market—received only 36.5 out of 100 possible points on the eco-organization's sustainability scale.
(We've invited Greenpeace to rank Vital Choice for their next report.)
The press release announcing the report puts the situation accurately:
“Our oceans—the world's last great wilderness—are in crisis. Destructive fishing practices, lack of marine reserves and global warming are threatening the survival of fisheries, fishing communities, and the health of marine ecosystems.”
|Doing our part: Sustainability at Vital Choice|
Most of our fish and seafood products are certified (current) sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, using credible methodologies.
And the rest of our seafood comes from fisheries that possess credible stamps of sustainability from Alaska's state agencies.
For the full story, go to our Sustainability page.
We try to support and spread the principles and practice of seafood sustainability via our Website and e-letter.
We've published many articles on seafood sustainability… find them here.
Vital Choice also distributes thousands of free Monterey Bay Aquarium “Seafood Watch” wallet cards to customers, and we donate very substantial sums annually to credible eco-orgs like The Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Blue Ocean Institute, and others.
And the report cites United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics showing that three-quarters of commercially valuable fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.
It goes on to cite widely reported scientific estimates that 90 percent of large predatory fish have already been lost and that the world's commercial fisheries could collapse within the next 40 years.
But as Greenpeace paper says, “While this paints a dire picture of the future, it is clear that together we have the tools to turn things around, but we must act quickly.”
Greenpeace believes that one potentially effective action is to pressure supermarkets to avoid overfished species … and that makes some sense to us.
Greenpeace report gives all supermarkets failing grades
According to the new Greenpeace report, consumers buy half their seafood at supermarkets, where annual seafood sales total about $16 billion.
The report, titled “Carting Away the Oceans,” alleges that the top 20 U.S. supermarkets select seafood with little regard for sustainability.
Greenpeace awarded chains points for policies and product selections that promote sustainability, with a maximum of 100 possible points.
With 36.5 points, Whole Foods Market topped the rankings. But the large natural supermarket chain was followed closely by Harris Teeter and Ahold USA—owner of Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets—both of which earned 35.9 points.
Each of the 17 remaining major chains scored less than 30 points from Greenpeace, including Wegman's, Target, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Costco, and Kroger's.
And out of the under-30-points group, 10 chains—including Publix, Price Chopper, and Trader Joe's—earned less than 15 points each.
Here's how Greenpeace described their analytical methods (Greenpeace PR 2008):
- “Greenpeace reviewed the sustainable seafood policies and practices of 20 top U.S. supermarkets. The research for this report began with a review of publicly available information on supermarket's seafood policies … and by surveying the seafood available on supermarket shelves, fish counters and freezers.
- “Supermarkets were then given the opportunity to update and correct any information through written comments and in meetings with Greenpeace.”
- “Supermarkets were scored on their overall policy on sustainable seafood, active support for sustainability initiatives, labeling policies, public promotion of sustainable seafood and the Red List seafood they sell.”
- Sustainable seafood sourcing policies
- Support for sustainability initiatives
- Labeling policies and public promotion of sustainable seafood
- Red List seafood they sell.
The authors of the report assessed fisheries and farming practices on the following criteria. Existence of any one worst practice put seafood from the fishery or farm in question on Greenpeace's Red (avoid) list.
Any one of these practices earned a wild fishery Red list (avoid) status from Greenpeace:
- Targeting highly vulnerable species
- Fishing in deep-water habitats
- Using destructive fishing methods
- Disregarding scientific advice
- Using indiscriminate fishing methods
- Catching threatened or protected species
- Impacting entire ecosystems
- Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Fishing
- Sourcing eggs or juveniles from the wild
- Introducing alien (non-indigenous) species
- Transferring disease to the wild
- Locating aquaculture facilities in sensitive areas
- Using wild fish to feed farmed fish
- Contributing to human rights abuse
- Other general impacts on biodiversity
- Unsustainable components used in feed
We have one serious criticism about the approach Greenpeace adopted.
Greenpeace declined to assign any value to certification of a fishery's sustainability by the widely respected Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
But the MSC was founded by the World Wildlife Fund, and remains the only credible independent certifier of seafood sustainability.
(Greenpeace also declined to endorse a new, untested sustainability certification group from Italy called Friend of the Sea—not to be confused with eco-org Friends of the Sea. Some observers suspect that Friend of the Sea was set up to be a more industry-friendly certifier than MSC. Time will tell.)
Greenpeace's aloof stance toward MSC certification seems odd, given that the MSC—not Greenpeace—is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to close, detailed scrutiny of fisheries.
We respect the work that Greenpeace does, but not the way in which, by ignoring MSC certification, Greenpeace seems to award itself the status of ultimate arbiter.
- Greenpeace PR. Greenpeace Launches Seafood Report and Interactive Website
- June 17, 2008. Accessed online June 18, 2008 at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-launches-seafood-report
- Greenpeace. Carting Away the Oceans. Accessed online June 18, 2008 at http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/usa/press-center/reports4/carting-away-the-oceans.pdf