« January 2008 Table of Contents
Certification of wild species moves forward, buyers
await farmed-fish equivalent
By Lisa Duchene
January 01, 2008
Just a few years ago, as some of the industry's giants
realized day-to-day purchasing must change to secure supply and
a bright business future, sustainability demanded constant
Now, the word is part of the industry's lexicon. Many buyers
have announced new purchasing policies and are working quietly
to shift their seafood supply to environmentally responsible
sources. Bill Herzig, Darden Restaurants' senior VP of
purchasing, explains the company's sustainable seafood effort
as taking "one bite at a time" or "the journey, not the
destination." Herzig is working to shift Darden's seafood
purchasing to farms and fisheries that can continue to supply
it well into the future without incurring environmental damage,
while at the same time ensuring food-safety criteria and fair
social conditions are met.
Simultaneously, Darden must secure millions of pounds of
seafood annually for its 1,700 restaurants, including Red
Lobster and Olive Garden, and inspire, not alienate, its
The task is daunting, which is why Herzig focuses on one
step at a time. Many big-volume seafood buyers are walking a
similar tightrope as they raise the sustainability profile of
their seafood supply.
"When you're bringing about global change, you have to take
it a bite at a time, and as people are ready for it," says
Herzig. "It's driven to some degree by the nature and structure
business. If you want to bring about effective change,
you have to be part encourager, part educator, part coach and
The steps high-volume seafood buyers like Darden have taken
in the last few years are adding up to significant volume.
More than 30 percent of the U.S. retail market and 15
percent of the foodservice market has a sustainable-seafood
purchasing policy in place and is buying Marine Stewardship
Council-certified seafood, estimates Philip Fitzpatrick, who
works with the seafood supply chain on chain-of-custody
certification as the MSC's commercial director for the
About 10 percent of the global shrimp supply is produced in
plants with a third-party certification as meeting industry
best practices for environmental responsibility, food safety
and social welfare under the Global Aquaculture Alliance's Best
Aquaculture Practices program. The BAP program was introduced
Some of the sustainability measures that U.S. seafood buyers
have recently taken:
• Darden has partnered with the New England Aquarium, the
GAA and the World Wildlife Fund. It stopped purchasing four or
five problem species (declining to name them) for which there
was a legal catch but much of the supply is illegal,
unregulated and unreported.
All of the shrimp Darden purchases is processed in plants
certified by the Aquaculture Certification Council of Kirkland,
Wash., as meeting the GAA's BAP standards.
• All of the shrimp products Wal-Mart purchases are
processed in GAA-program-certified plants. About one-third of
the wild seafood Wal-Mart sells is MSC certified, says Peter
Redmond, Wal-Mart's VP and
divisional merchandise manager of
deli and seafood.
"The bulk of our remaining products are presently in some
stage of the [MSC] assessment or certification process," says
• Since March 2006, the Compass Group, a high-volume
foodservice provider based in Charlotte, N.C., has shifted
550,289 pounds of seafood, more than half of its goal of 1
million pounds, from threatened fisheries to sustainable
sources using the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list as
a guide, says Jason Marriott, the company's director of seafood
The list categorizes seafood products as Best (green), Good
(yellow) and Avoid (red), based on the environmental impact of
the species' harvest or aquaculture practices.
Compass has eliminated eight species from the order guides
available to its outlets: Atlantic cod, Chilean sea bass,
Atlantic halibut, monkfish, orange roughy, imported swordfish,
bluefin tuna and shark, including dogfish.
Alaska pollock and Pacific cod are the only pollock and cod
products that Compass' operating units can purchase through
Icelandic, its preferred national distributor. Compass promotes
the two species in educational literature, training DVDs and
promotions that include menu ideas and POS materials. Eighty
percent of its finfish supply
is now considered sustainable,
"To ensure compliance," says Marriott, "we have informed our
local suppliers not to sell any fish from the 'Avoid'
categories to our accounts."
• Bon Appétit Management Co. in Palo Alto, Calif., is a
Compass-owned company that inspired its parent's seafood policy
change. Bon Appétit, which operates 400 cafés nationwide and
purchases 1 million pounds of seafood annually, only buys
seafood categorized as Best and Good on the Monterey Bay
Over time, Bon Appétit's sustainable-seafood policy has only
"In 2002, sustainable seafood was a purchasing preference,"
says Katherine Kwon, a Bon Appétit spokeswoman.
"In 2004, it became non-negotiable. We believe that
purchasing sustainable seafood is simply the right thing to do
and we're in a good position to do something about it."
• Ahold USA, which operates 726 grocery stores under three
divisions in the eastern United States - Giant-Carlisle,
Giant-Landover and Stop & Shop - contracts with the New
England Aquarium in Boston to receive science-based advice on
the sources of its seafood
supply. The program, first launched
in 2001 as EcoSound and now called ChoiceCatch, is being
"We have taken steps to reduce the frequency of ads on
specific items of concern [like Atlantic cod and orange roughy]
and/or the areas where fish is caught or raised, based on
recommendations given by the New England Aquarium," says Tracy
Taylor, senior buyer for seafood at Ahold USA. "We have also
started to promote longline Pacific cod regularly at one of our
• Wegmans Food Markets, the Northeast supermarket company
with headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., in October announced
farmed shrimp-purchasing standards to promote environmental
progress in the shrimp-aquaculture industry in the
"Wegmans will only purchase farmed shrimp that is high
quality, healthful and environmentally preferable," says the
The standards the retailer is following are based upon the
Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming developed by the
Consortium on Shrimp Farming and the Environment, which
includes the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization,
the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In the last year or so, says Mike Sutton, VP of the Monterey
Bay Aquarium and director for the Future of the Oceans, the
sustainability announcements of major seafood buyers have
reached a tipping point.
"Now the challenge is helping them live up to their
commitments," says Sutton.
"The level of interest in the business community and the
general consumer public is greater than any I've seen in the 20
years I've been doing this," says Tom Grasso, acting director
of the fisheries program for the WWF in Washington, D.C.
Fulfilling the promise
Globally, there are now more than 25 MSC-certified fisheries
and 30 fisheries in the final stages of certification. Another
20 are in the initial stages of assessment.
The volume of certified fisheries, says the MSC's
Fitzpatrick, represents more than 4 million metric tons of
seafood and 8 percent of the global wild catch. Cumulatively,
the certified fisheries represent 42 percent of the global
salmon supply, 38 percent of the global whitefish supply and 18
percent of the global spiny lobster supply.
In addition to the public
announcements, many retailers are
quietly shifting their purchasing to sustainable sources, says
"More than a dozen fisheries have come forward as a result
of a commitment Wal-Mart has made and other retailers have
quietly made," he says. There is also interest from foodservice
operators. Distributors that have chain-of-custody
certification to handle MSC products include online retailer
Fresh Direct in the New York City metro area, Poseidon Seafood
in Charlotte, N.C., Santa Monica Seafood in Rancho Dominguez,
Gorton in Boston and The Plitt Co.
On the aquaculture side of the supply picture, GAA's plant
certification earns the product one star on its wholesale
package along with a certified BAP logo. Product from certified
plants and farms earns two stars and totals 15,000 metric tons.
A triple certification - plant, farm and hatchery - carries
three stars and describes 60,000 metric tons of farmed shrimp
on the global market. Standards for shrimp feed, representing
the fourth potential star, are in development, as are standards
for catfish, tilapia and pangasius. Once they are determined,
Wal-Mart expects to adopt these new standards and require its
suppliers of these farmed species to gain ACC accreditation.
Darden and Wal-Mart's sustainable-seafood policies are
driving a growing number of shrimp farms, processors and
hatcheries, as well as wild fisheries, to seek
Darden's goal for this year is to have 20 percent of the
shrimp volume in its system come from farms that are
BAP-certified. The company worked with its suppliers to set a
"Suppliers generally know that when we set a goal our job is
to meet that goal. We don't set our goals lightly," says
So far, Wal-Mart sells 22 MSC-certified seafood products.
Its next target is that all wild items will be MSC-certified in
the next two to four years and it is receiving encouraging
support from its vendors that it will be able to meet the
target, says Redmond.
"We're very encouraged by the number of wild species that
have entered either full or pre-certification with the MSC and
are happy with the progress of the initiative thus far," he
Hurdles on the horizon
One important chall e nge facing buyers who are focusing on
sourcing sustainable seafood is a lack of consensus on
Demand for sustainable certification of farmed salmon
remains high, says the Compass Group's Marriott. "Issues
ranging from interpretation as to what constitutes sustainable
fish farming to consensus as to what criteria need to be met
for sustainability, to actually finding producers that farm in
an appropriate manner, to finding sufficient volume to meet our
consumption needs - all of these continue to be challenges as
we move forward," says Marriott.
There are at least three sets of standards or platforms
defining sustainable aquaculture. One is a result of
international dialogues the WWF has held globally over the past
two years with industry stake-holders. The other two
farmed-seafood standards are the Principles for Responsible
Farming, developed by the
Consortium on Shrimp Farming
and the Environment (that Wegmans is adopting), and the GAA's
Wal-Mart's Redmond also sees a need for agreement on
aquaculture standards. "One of our priorities is to establish a
set of [aquaculture] standards as quickly as possible, so we
can begin to make a positive impact," says Redmond. "Once the
WWF standards are released, Wal-Mart will review them and
determine how best to move
forward with implementing the
Sutton, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sees a need for an MSC
equivalent in aquaculture to certify farming operations.
"Whether that's ACC or a new entity, that debate is
underway," says Sutton. "Without a doubt, there is going to be
an aquaculture certification initiative ramping up very
rapidly. Wal-Mart is insisting on it, among others. We're going
to see certified farmed fish on the market relatively
Doing so is part of meeting the volume needs of these
trailblazing buyers, says Sutton.
Clearly, the next chapter of the sustainable seafood market
trend will be determined by whether the industry and
conservation community can build upon their partnerships and
agree on the definition of sustainable aquaculture.
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene writes about business and
the environment from Bellefonte, Pa.