New sustainable seafood guidelines
Sound Consumer | August 2004
by Cameron Woodworth
(August 2004) — If you're looking for the very best in environmentally friendly seafood, PCC is giving you a green light. PCC has teamed with the prestigious Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium to launch a fantastic program to help consumers choose the most eco-friendly seafood choices.
Next time you visit your local PCC, be sure to pick up a copy of Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide. This free, pocket-sized guide categorizes seafood into three environmentally sensible choices: green, which represents "best choices," yellow, meaning "proceed with caution," and red, which are to be avoided. PCC carries an extensive selection of seafood from the green list and a few items from the yellow list, but no items from the red list.
"Fisheries conservation is among today's most important marine conservation issues," says Julie Packard, Monterey Bay Aquarium's executive director. "It's an environmental problem whose solution is in people's hands every time they buy seafood. Through Seafood Watch, we want people to have the information they need to make wise choices when they shop."
According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, fish from the green list, such as Alaskan salmon, halibut, abalone, catfish, farmed oysters, trap-caught shrimp and farmed sturgeon, are abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Yellow-listed fish, such as swordfish from the Pacific Ocean, King Crab, wild-caught clams and U.S. farmed or trawl-caught shrimp, are good choices, but there are concerns with the way they are caught or farmed.
Fish in the red column, such as most sharks, imported shrimp and swordfish from the Atlantic Ocean, should be avoided because they come from sources that are over-fished or are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
The guide is updated by Monterey Bay Aquarium's staff of experts every six months. PCC is firmly committed to offering quality sustainable seafood. The first program was launched in 2002; it was designed to provide product that could be traced to certified fishermen.
That program was discontinued for a few reasons — it didn't guarantee labeling integrity from the source to the shelves, and it didn't offer a wide enough variety of seafood to customers. PCC's new sustainable seafood program ensures quality and accountability, while offering products such as fresh shrimp, rockfish, ahi tuna and farm-raised sturgeon.
Paul Schmidt, PCC's director of merchandising, says department staff "did extensive research to ensure the Monterey Bay Aquarium program was the best possible solution for our customers. Now we're able to offer a much wider selection, beyond salmon and halibut."
PCC is the first retailer to become a full partner in the Seafood Watch program. As part of the educational effort, PCC plans to distribute thousands of the Seafood Watch guides to customers and will launch new seafood cooking classes this fall.
PCC's seafood supplier — on Monterey Bay Aquarium's recommendation — is Seattle-based Ocean Beauty. Schmidt says Ocean Beauty's extensive tracking program allows PCC to do the best possible job of telling customers where its seafood comes from. "Approximately 50 percent of Ocean Beauty's product is from its own fleet," he says, "with the remainder coming from many ocean-friendly small fishermen.
"Toward the goal of implementing complete chain-of-custody documentation, Ocean Beauty is already documenting where its fish were caught and how they were fished. They give that information to us on the product and on the invoice. We've set up individual codes for the species based on the fishing method by which it was caught."
Seafood in trouble globally
Global demand for seafood has grown rapidly, seriously depleting many of the world's fish species. Today, nearly 70 percent of the world's fisheries are fully fished or over-fished, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium. Fisheries around the globe have collapsed, putting fishermen out of work. The Seafood Watch program works to avoid over-fished species that are not showing signs of recovery.
By-catch is another issue. Worldwide, fisheries throw away nearly 25 percent of the catch that's unwanted or unintended, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. For instance, until changes were made in the way tuna were fished, hundreds of thousands of dolphins died as by-catch of the tuna industry.
Additionally, traditional fishing methods have caused extensive damage to marine habitat. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, bottom trawlers — which drag huge nets across the ocean floor to catch fish — often crush habitat and other marine life where fish feed and breed. Aquarium officials recommend that consumers should choose more environmentally friendly fishing methods such as hook-and-line fishing and trap fishing.
Are farmed fish good or bad?
Many of the Seafood Watch program's green-lighted fish are farmed varieties — raised in fish farms much like farmers raise cattle and chickens. Nearly 20 percent of the world's seafood comes from farms. Seafood experts say that can be good or bad depending on the species and how and where they are raised.
The Seafood Watch program steers customers toward farm-raised shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels. Shellfish eat plankton from the water and don't need supplemental feeding.
Salmon is another story. Wild-caught salmon from California or Alaska is green-lighted, but farmed salmon is on the red list. Program officials say that salmon raised in net pens in coastal waters spread waste and disease to coastal ecosystems. Non-native species of salmon may escape into the wild (hundreds of thousands already have), interacting with wild species of salmon. Sea lions and sea birds are sometimes killed when they try to eat the farmed salmon.Choosing to purchase wild salmon from sustainable runs helps reduce support for farmed salmon.
The most environmentally friendly tuna include troll-caught or pole-and-line-caught albacore, bigeye and yellowfin tuna, because they are abundant and these fishing methods take in little by-catch of unwanted fish.
Program officials say that trap-caught shrimp is the most environmentally friendly variety of shrimp. Wild shrimp usually are caught by trawling, and shrimp trawl fisheries have among the world's highest level of by-catch. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service says that in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, an astonishing three pounds of by-catch are caught for every pound of shrimp.
The program also recommends against purchasing most farmed shrimp. While there are some environmentally friendly shrimp farms, most of the world's shrimp are farmed in Southeast Asia, where valuable coastal wetlands such as mangrove forests have been destroyed to make room for the farms.
In addition to providing information about ecologically sound seafood, our seafood merchandisers have developed a seafood health advisory chart (PDF). The chart breaks out information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, detailing the health advisories of the seafood we sell. It's available in our stores and on PCC's Web site.