BOSTON — Sustainable fisheries have become an area of growing importance for the seafood industry and its buyers. The Food Marketing Institute held a session here at the International Boston Seafood Show this month to explain its Sustainable Seafood Working Group, and emphasize the importance of working together as one industry on this issue.
“It's really FMI's role as a trade association to bring our members together and ask them to come in, [leave] their banners at the door and work for the industry,” said Jeanne von Zastrow, senior director of FMI.
“Our goals are to educate ourselves. We wanted to understand what seafood and sustainability was all about, who the players are and to establish what issues were a priority for our industry to address. We look to retailers for input and feedback on what we're doing.”
The group recommends that retailers develop a sustainable seafood purchasing policy to address this emerging issue, and has been working since 2008 to develop guidelines, best practices and resources to help retailers achieve these goals. The Sustainable Seafood section of FMI's website currently hosts case studies showcasing partnerships among retailers, government agencies, accrediting bodies and non-governmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace.
The panel addressed key issues the group is currently working on, and which sustainability issues they see around the corner.
Tracy Taylor, senior buyer for Ahold USA, said that a critical issue for the retailer is seafood source tracking. The retailer wants to get further back into the supply chain to get a better understanding of how the fish are caught, in order to help its store associates understand and answer customer questions, she said.
“Each year that number is growing more and more,” Taylor said. “We also answer to shareholders and they're asking these same types of questions.”
Shawn McMurter, director of national procurement for meat and seafood at Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, said that consumer expectations are changing.
“Customers are going to hold us accountable,” McMurter said. “Just like food safety, we don't tell the world we're doing that, they just expect it of us. I think the consumer, with regard to sustainability, is going to expect the same thing. I think the minimum expectation going forward is they're going to expect us to do the right thing.”
FMI offers tools for retailers to develop a sustainable seafood program, including Sustainability 101, a free PowerPoint tool to help educate staff and senior management, von Zastrow said. It has also developed a Sustainability Tool Kit, which is a 70-page document that helps retailers understand what seafood sustainability is, why it's important and how to begin to develop a business plan that incorporates sustainable sourcing.
Retailers on the panel agreed that the tools are helpful.
“When I look back to where I was with sustainability and seafood a year ago, if I would've had that document then, it would've been a big help, so it's a great tool,” said Richard Castle, director of seafood for Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.