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Whole Foods Market plans to stop selling all red-rated swordfish and tuna at its seafood counters nationwide by this Earth Day, April 22, 2011.
The natural and organic foods retailer this past September set this deadline for sourcing swordfish and tuna more sustainably as part of a larger initiative to move toward fully-sustainable seafood departments. For more than a decade, the company has maintained a strong partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world's leading certification body for sustainable, wild-caught seafood, and continues to source a range of MSC-certified products. The latest addition to Whole Foods Market's seafood sustainability initiative was developed to provide shoppers with transparent information about the sustainability status of non-MSC certified, wild-caught seafood and features color-coded, science-based sustainability ratings for wild-caught seafood created by partners Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
"The sustainability status information has opened a terrific dialogue at the seafood counter,” said David Pilat, Whole Foods global seafood coordinator. “Shoppers are flexing their buying power to prompt change and help reverse trends of overfishing, exploitation and depletion in so many fisheries. Whole Foods has partnerships with Blue Ocean Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and with our shoppers, buyers, fishermen, and fishery managers. We have found fisheries that can provide better environmental choices to support the ecological health of our oceans and the abundance of marine life for generations to come."
Whole Foods’ seafood buyers source tuna and swordfish from green- and yellow-rated fisheries such as those using handlines (a fishing method that uses a single baited line to catch one fish at a time), which have low to no bycatch.
One of the new sources of green- and yellow-rated tuna comes from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where fishermen catch tuna traditionally using a low-impact pole and line. Elsewhere, most tuna is caught with nets or longlines, which can capture not only the targeted catch, but also juvenile tuna and large amounts of bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds, earning some of these fisheries a red-rating.
Company buyers have also formed partnerships with a variety of small green-rated swordfish fisheries in the United States – in Florida, for example -- and are looking for more. These U.S. day boats also use low-impact handline fishing gear.
"We are not only committed to amazingly fresh seafood but to making sure that fish stocks can be replenished so that we can keep fishing responsibly for many years to come," said Scott Taylor, co-owner of Florida-based Day Boat Seafood, a supplier to Whole Foods. "We truly value our partnership with Whole Foods Market because the company has demonstrated a loyalty and genuine commitment to our fishermen, this process and the environment."
Whole Foods uses color-coded ratings to make it easy for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case. Green or "best choice" ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or "good alternative" ratings mean some concerns exist with the species' status or catch methods; and red or "avoid" ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The ratings supplement the sustainable seafood partnership that Whole Foods Market has had with the MSC since 1999.
"We've heard from many shoppers that these ratings have been a wake-up call," said Conner Herrick, seafood team leader in Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas flagship store. "Shoppers have said that the visibility of the ratings at the seafood counter have provided a level of transparency that has helped them quickly zero in on the most sustainable items to purchase."
Remaining red-rated wild-caught seafood will be phased out of Whole Foods Market stores by Earth Day 2012 with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will have an extension until Earth Day 2013.
Whole Foods Market's wild-caught seafood rating program and partnerships complement its existing farmed seafood standards, which remain the highest in the industry. The company requires third-party audits and traceability from farm to market and prohibits use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives like sulfites and phosphates, genetically-modified seafood and land animal by-products in feed. Farmed seafood at Whole Foods carries the "Responsibly Farmed" logo to indicate it meets these high standards.
For a video demonstrating a day boat fishing using handlines, visit youtube.com/watch?v=jVi5SRP2Iqs.