Quantcast

Assessing Seafood Retailers’ Progress Helps Consumers and Industry

Insights + Opinion

A warm summer day, a cold drink and fish on the grill. It doesn't get much better. But how do you know if your fish is sustainable? It can be a challenge—especially considering SeaChoice found just 11 per cent of seafood available in Canada in 2016 was rated as a "best choice." Many retailers have sustainable seafood policies, but how good are they?


To help consumers choose wisely, SeaChoice used to rank seafood using a traffic light system—red (avoid), yellow (some concerns) and green (best choice). U.S.-based Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program and Canada's Ocean Wise continue to offer similar rankings. SeaChoice recently launched its Seafood Progress online resource to shift the focus to retailers, but with consumers in mind.

Although all major Canadian retailers have made a commitment to sustainable seafood, their products and definitions of "sustainable" vary, which can make consumer choices difficult. Using information from retailers and public sources, SeaChoice—a Living Oceans Society, Ecology Action Centre and David Suzuki Foundation partnership—is applying 22 performance indicators to assess sustainable seafood commitments made by Buy-Low Foods, Costco, Co-op, Loblaws, Metro, Save-On-Foods, Safeway, Sobeys and Walmart Canada. The indicators are based on "six steps that form the vision for sustainable seafood developed by environmental groups across North America."

According to the Seafood Progress Year 1 report, "The average assessment scores show that while most retailers have detailed policies and are collecting important information about the seafood they source, they can do a better job increasing transparency by making that information public and supporting improvements to fisheries and fish farms." In other words, they may have policies, but without transparency, it's difficult to know if they're living up to them.

On average, retailers did well on three of the six steps: Make a public commitment, collect data and source responsibly. Some needed improvement on two steps: Be transparent and educate. All scored lower on the sixth: Support improvements. The last is important in bringing about changes on the water. "If retailers are going to sell some of the more unsustainable seafood products available in Canada, they should be taking action to improve fisheries and farm practices," the report says.

The assessments will help retailers strengthen their policies, give them more opportunities to work with suppliers to improve fisheries and aquaculture practices, and help consumers make better choices. As well as environmental issues, SeaChoice also analyzed retailers' social responsibility commitments and recommends that most retailers "take action to confirm that no human rights abuses or labour violations are taking place in their supply chain."

SeaChoice recommends retailers label products with "the species' scientific (Latin) name, country of origin, whether it is wild or farmed, and the gear type or farming method," but found that only one retailer, Metro, included such comprehensive information. It might seem like a lot to put on a label, but the European Union requires all retailers to meet these standards.
To illustrate the need for comprehensive labelling, including the scientific name, SeaChoice found more than 200 rockfish species can be sold as snapper and 58 percent of rockfish sampled from Canadian retailers was mislabelled.

Seafood Progress is designed in part to encourage retailers to live up to and improve their seafood procurement policies, and in doing so improve production practices overall. But it also allows consumers to click on a particular retailer to learn how ambitious its environmental sustainability, social responsibility and traceability aims are, and how well it's meeting its commitments.

Oceans and the life they support face many threats, from pollution and climate change to ever-increasing ship traffic and noise. Aquaculture has the potential to take some pressure off wild seafood stocks, but it also brings its own challenges, including escapes, pollution and parasite and disease transmission to wild fish.

Choosing fish, shellfish and seaweed products that don't add to the threats is made difficult by the many factors that determine sustainability. With programs like Seafood Progress, consumers can support retailers that follow best practices, while retailers can demonstrate corporate responsibility and help the seafood industry progress toward sustainability.

If we manage fisheries and aquaculture operations properly, we can continue to enjoy these important food sources for generations to come.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

What you eat before drinking alcohol can have a huge impact on how you feel at the end of the night — and the next morning.

Read More Show Less
Secretary Carson surveys recovery in Florida Panhandle following Hurricane Michael. U.S. HUD / Flickr / Public Domain

By Eren Erman Ozguven

When Hurricane Michael roared onto northwest Florida's Gulf Coast in October 2018, its 160 mile-per-hour winds made it the strongest storm ever to hit the region. It was only the fourth Category 5 storm on record to make landfall in the U.S.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Ketura Persellin

Global consumption of beef, lamb and goat is expected to rise by almost 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. But that doesn't mean you need to eat more meat. In fact, recent news from Washington gives you even less confidence in your meat: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of line workers.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kaitlyn Berkheiser

While enjoying an occasional alcoholic beverage is unlikely to harm your health, drinking in excess can have substantial negative effects on your body and well-being.

Read More Show Less
MStudioImages / E+ / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Backpacking is an exciting way to explore the wilderness or travel to foreign countries on a budget.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less