BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores here plans to source all of its wild-caught fish from fisheries that meet the Marine Stewardship Council's environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.
"Our goal is to procure all of our wild-caught seafood for the North American [market] from fisheries certified by the MSC within the next three to five years," said Karen Burk, spokeswoman, Wal-Mart. "Our first step toward this goal will be to have product that currently comes from MSC-certified fisheries to carry the MSC eco-label. [They] will begin appearing in our supercenters and Neighborhood Markets later this year."
London-based MSC works to ensure the long-term viability of fish populations and the health of marine systems on which they depend. There are 40 MSC-certified fisheries worldwide.
"We plan, over the next few years, to develop plans and programs that will allow [non-certified fisheries] to become MSC-certified," Burk said.
Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund, both based in Washington, will work with Wal-Mart and its suppliers to make improvements to the fisheries that could use improvement, according to a statement released by the MSC. Steps will include strengthening management practices, rebuilding fish stocks, reducing environmental impacts and encouraging support for broader marine ecosystem management and protection efforts. As fisheries improve, Wal-Mart and its suppliers will encourage them to participate in the MSC certification program, according to the MSC.
Officials hope Wal-Mart's participation will result in greater understanding of seafood sustainability.
"This is a very significant development because Wal-Mart is clearly the world's largest retailer," said Rupert Howes, chief executive officer, MSC. "Wal-Mart has taken a very large leadership position. They're not just saying that they'll switch to certified suppliers. They're working with existing suppliers to deliver real change."
Wal-Mart would not comment on whether it will drop suppliers that do not source from MSC-certified fisheries within the three-to-five-year time frame. According to Howes, the retailer met with 30 to 40 fish suppliers on the day it announced the initiative.
Retailers including Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Wegmans and Safeway source from MSC-certified fisheries.
"Customers who see that Wal-Mart offers wild-caught fish only from MSC-certified fisheries can be certain that they are buying from a retailer that is taking active steps to ensure that the wild-caught fish they enjoy will continue to be available to them and to future generations," Burk said.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 52% of fish stocks are fully exploited, which means that they are being fished at their maximum biological capacity; 24% are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion; and 21% are moderately exploited. Only 3% of the world's fish stocks are underexploited.
Although some Wal-Mart suppliers already are sourcing from certified fisheries, they're not indicating it on product packaging. Use of the MSC logo on products is permitted only when an independent verification proves the product originated from an MSC-certified fishery. According to MSC officials, a chain-of-custody certificate is required for verification.
Each member of the supply chain including processors, retailers and restaurants must be certified up to the point of applying the label to the product. According to Wal-Mart, the retailer's fish suppliers that source from MSC-certified fisheries will apply the label. Retailers including London-based Tesco use the label on fresh fish that's packaged in the stores. Tesco is allowed to do so since it obtained a chain-of-custody certificate, Howes said.
During the process, a fishery is assessed for sustainable fishing based on MSC's standards. Certifiers pay particular attention to any steps in the supply chain where products from an MSC-certified fishery could be mixed with non-certified products, according to MSC. If the certifier verifies that the product identification and segregation systems are adequate to ensure that items from certified fisheries are not mixed with products from non-certified fisheries, the company will be approved by the MSC, officials said.
The certification lasts for three years and the cost depends on the size and complexity of the supply chain. The cost of using the MSC logo is based on the value of the product at the first point of sale after application of the logo. Fees are payable by the company responsible for applying the logo to the product. In Wal-Mart's case, its seafood suppliers will cover the cost of applying the logos.