ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Citing sustainability concerns, Wegmans Food Markets here has announced that it will no longer carry orange roughy at any of its 72 locations. Just days earlier this month, the chain became the first food retailer to endorse the “Take Marlin Off the Menu” campaign, which was launched eight months ago by three leading marine conservation groups urging restaurants and food retailers to discontinue the sale of marlin, sailfish and spearfish due to population concerns.
“Sustainability is a never-ending journey,” Carl Salamone, vice president of seafood for Wegmans, said in a release. “As technology, research and the environment change, new challenges will come our way. We just try to identify the environmental concerns and make decisions to make amends or diminish the effects. Then we look for the next challenge.”
Wegmans had already eliminated blue fin tuna, Atlantic halibut and all species of shark from its seafood cases. And, in an effort to detail their policies to shoppers, in November 2008, the company added a sustainability page to its website, where customers can go to find links to Wegmans' Sustainable Seafood Sourcing Philosophy and its Sustainable Seafood Product Chart. Counter posters also display this information at each Wegmans location.
In a column published online and in sales circulars last week, Senior Vice President of Consumer Affairs Mary Ellen Burris explained that the decision to discontinue orange roughy was based on several factors.
“Orange roughy is a slow-growing, deepwater fish and our seafood specialists do not believe current fishing guidelines allow the population to replenish,” she wrote.
“In addition, bottom trawling, the only fishing method used for this species, damages the ocean floor. Since orange roughy is always in season, the damage never stops and the ocean floor never begins to recover. The catch method also results in large amounts of other species being caught. That ‘bycatch’ is not usable, wasting valuable plant and animal life.”
As alternatives, Burris suggested Pacific cod or Pacific halibut, noting that both fish species have a similar texture and mild flavor, and both are certified sustainable by the international Marine Stewardship Council. Similarly, the company has reportedly advised shoppers who were fans of marlin to substitute mahi mahi.
In his announcement regarding Wegmans' membership in “Take Marlin Off the Menu,” Salamone emphasized that retailers, as the public face of the food industry, have an opportunity to encourage these types of changes in shopping habits, and an opportunity educate those consumers about these issues.
“As an industry, we have a great deal of influence in what Americans eat,” he said. “Every day, in supermarkets across the country, consumers ask seafood professionals what's great to eat. That's when we can point consumers to fish and seafood that is flavorful and good for our environment. Because when the marlin are gone, we all lose.”
The “Take Marlin Off the Menu” campaign was developed by the International Game Fish Association, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation and the Billfish Foundation, and members acknowledged that getting Wegmans to sign on has been an important step for the program.
“This is a huge step for our campaign because Wegmans is respected by consumers for its commitment to customer service, as well as throughout the supermarket industry for its innovation,” said Ken Hinman, president of Washington-based NCMC. “We applaud Wegmans for stepping forward among its peers in the supermarket industry and coming out on the side of marlin and other billfish.”