« November 2009 Table of Contents
Going Green: Plot a course
How to create a sustainable seafood policy
By Lisa Duchene
November 01, 2009
Helene York has a two-word answer for anyone who thinks
creating a sustainable seafood purchasing policy is too
expensive, too hard or otherwise impossible: Com-pass
York, director of strategic initiatives for Bon Appetit
Management Co., points to Compass Group USA, Bon Appetit's
owner and the country's largest contract foodservice company
and the North American division of a United Kingdom-based
Compass says its seafood supply overall is now 70 percent
sustainable. Since announcing its policy in 2006, the company
eliminated buys of 12 species labeled red/avoid by Monterey Bay
Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for a total of 1 million
pounds. It also purchased 5.5 million more pounds of green/best
choice species like Alaska pollock, farmed Ecuadoran tilapia
and Pacific halibut.
Along the way, says York, Compass Group helped to prove a
huge, mainstream company could create and follow-through on a
sustainable seafood policy. [See this issue's Top Story on page
18 for details on the relationships between seafood purchasers
For those still skeptical, York has a few more choice words:
"People who say this is impossible haven't tried. They're
wimps," says York.
She probably didn't say it quite like that in 2006, when she
presented Bon Appetit's seafood plan to Compass' executives and
made the case for a corporate policy: to ensure long-term
supplies of seafood at a reasonable price.
If your company is behind the ball on creating a policy,
here are a few tips on how to get started:
Step 1: Do you need a policy?
Yes, says Howard Johnson, a seafood market analyst and
president of H.M. Johnson & Associates in Jacksonville,
"In the past, seafood purchasing was all about balancing
price and quality," says Johnson. "Now you need to add safety,
traceability and sustainability."
A policy specifies the acceptable practices and spells out
how sustainability will be defined, he says. Compass, for
recognizes Monterey Bay Aquarium's definitions for
which species and sources are sustainable -
Retailers, chefs and foodservice operators, says Johnson,
could incorporate Marine Stewardship Council certification for
wild products and Global Aquaculture Alliance or World Wildlife
Fund certification for farmed products.
"In some cases," says Johnson, "retailers may decide to keep
offering red-list products (such as orange roughy) but explain
to their customers that some conservation organizations have
concerns. Other retailers may set requirements for the fishery
to improve if they are to keep selling [its product]."
Making a commitment via a written policy is the first step
identified in the Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable
Seafood, ratified by 14 conservation groups, that describes a
new norm of healthy fisheries, aquaculture operations and
communities that can sustain healthy oceans while meeting
future global demand for seafood.
Compass' sustainability policy, which also includes
replacing Atlantic cod and decreasing use of unsustainably
farmed shrimp and salmon, helped inform the Common Vision's six
key steps for seafood buyers found at
www.solutionsforseafood.or g .
"Companies recognize it's helpful to have that platform in
place," says Lydia Bergen, director of conservation for the New
England Aquarium, which has advised Ahold USA, Darden
Restaurants and Gorton's on their sustainable purchasing
policies. But the sequence of steps varies among companies,
Step 2: Take stock
York recommends buyers look at their seafood supply and
calculate how much of it is rated red/avoid, yellow/good
alternative or green/best choice by the Seafood Watch program.
New England Aquarium refers to this as a sustainable seafood
risk assessment. That analysis, says Bergen, identifies a
company's leverage points and helps shape its policy.
The Common Vision specifies these details: common and
scientific names, country of origin, the specific wild stock or
farm, harvest method (fishing gear or aquaculture production
method), producer, processor, volume and the product's
re sponsibility ranking. The Web site
FishChoice.com serves as a one-stop shop for seafood buyers to
evaluate seven seafood ranking or certification organizations.
Once buyers register and pick a seafood ranking system, they
can search for products based on that organization's
Step 3: Green your supply
Once you've rated your current seafood supply, what can you
do to shift it toward greener, more abundant products?
First, says York, look at alternatives to red-list
"No question," she says, "shrimp is the hardest." The small
amount of shrimp Bon Appetit buys is wild American shrimp, she
says. Compass Group says farmed shrimp and salmon are the most
challenging since there is a lack of consensus among
conservationists specifying sustainable farming of these
popular s pecies. Between 2007 and 2008, Compass dropped what
it considered to be unsustainable shrimp purchases by 835,000
unsustainable salmon purchases by 192,000
Brainstorm to find alternatives, suggests York. "As we've
demonstrated for salmon, there are wild Alaska products, Arctic
char and then there are other fish that can be introduced to
consumers with a little creativity," she says.
Don't focus on the cost difference of a single product. "You
have to look at the whole group of seafood that's being
purchased," says York. "What are the alternatives? Some are
less expensive. Some are the same. Some are a little more.
Fundamentally, it can be developed in a very cost-neutral way.
Why? Because sustainable seafood is abundant. If it weren't
abundant, it wouldn't be sustainable."
Step 4: Transparency
The next step, according to the Common Vision, is for
sellers to publish the policy, release annual status reports
and make it easy for customers to find out the sustainability
details of your fish: harvest method, origin and environmental
That means buyers have to be able to trace each product to
its source, which is a challenge.
"Most chains will insist that their suppliers provide full
traceability on all items," says Johnson. "This is the only way
to assure a company is not misrepresenting the products they
offer. Traceability will be mandatory in Europe next year and
eventually in the United States."
The next step
Throughout the process, education is key. New England
Aquarium helps its partner companies inform their staff, buyers
and executive team. And it's a critical part of Compass Group's
"Phase 2" - to educate suppliers on ocean sustainability
issues, work with salmon, shrimp and tilapia farmers on waste
and escapes and cut buys of unsustainable shrimp and salmon by
another 500,000 pounds over the next three years.
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,