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Scoring Seafood

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No doubt, the need to source sustainable seafood is an urgent one for the food industry. Populations are depleting as a result of over fishing, and destructive practices such as bottom trawling have damaged fragile underwater ecosystems. Knowing how and where to find a truly sustainable catch is difficult, however. Retailers have price and supply concerns, and conscientious shoppers are having trouble sorting through the various certifiers out there.

sea2.jpgActivist organization Greenpeace wants to help further the issue with its latest report, which rates 20 major supermarket chains according to how sustainable their seafood selection is. “Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores are Emptying the Seas” covers 75 pages, though I’ll go ahead and give away the plot right now (if you couldn’t figure it out from the title): They all failed. Even Greenpeace’s top scorer Whole Foods, which has worked closely with the respected Marine Stewardship Council since 1999, only dredges up a 4 out of 10 on the scorecard. Publix and Price Chopper, two retailers who have made great strides in health and wellness over the years, scored at the very bottom.

The report actually makes a lot of excellent points. Sustainable sourcing is nowhere near where it needs to be, considering the rate of aquaculture depletion right now. A number of retailers — Whole Foods included — have admitted as much. It also states, rightly, that supermarkets need to have a supply plan in place, as well as standards.

But it’s not a very constructive critique. Indeed, Greenpeace doesn’t recommend any species of fish or certification programs as alternatives — just that consumers and retailers abstain from its “Red List” of 22 different varieties of fish, as well as other unsustainable choices. That’s suspicious advice, especially since, as Los Angeles Times food writer Russ Parsons says, “the list paints with a very broad brush, and in the the confusing world of seafood that can lead to some serious oversimplifications.” It also snuffs a lot of highly reputable organizations working to certify and promote sustainable seafood.

As I mentioned, a lot of retailers have acknowledged that they need to do more to promote the health of aquaculture. That’s a good step, and they need to work hard and make sure they follow through with it. Otherwise, there might not be a seafood section years from now.

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