« October 2008 Table of Contents
One Man's Opinion: Sourcing sustainable seafood not simple
By Peter Redmayne
October 01, 2008
This summer, the Food Marketing Institute announced it was
creating a committee to help its members better understand the
issues surrounding seafood sustainability.
That follows the announcement this spring that Aramark, an
$11 billion foodservice company, was forming a partnership with
the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to help them
source sustainable seafood. Two years ago, Monterey Bay
announced a similar partnership with Compass Group, an $8
billion foodservice company.
Clearly, the sustainable seafood movement has legs. So why
are U.S. seafood buyers, who have lagged behind their European
counterparts in supporting sustainable seafood, suddenly going
One big reason is the continued effort by a group of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to push sustainable
seafood. Under the umbrella group Conservation Alliance for
Seafood Solutions and its Common Vision program announced in
early May, NGOs are spending millions of dollars to convince
key U.S. seafood buyers that it's in their interest to source
sustainable seafood. And obviously more big buyers feel it is.
Wal-Mart, for example, has said it only wants to sell wild fish
that is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
But saying you're going to make your seafood program
sustainable is one thing. Finding enough sustainable seafood to
sell is proving to be quite another matter. Although MSC is
certifying more fisheries all the time, most of these fisheries
are in developed countries. In the United States, for example,
fisheries on the West coast have been certified by the MSC, but
so far there are none on the Atlantic coast.
And the reality of the U.S. fish business is that more than
80 percent of the seafood sold is imported and a lot of that
comes from fisheries in developing countries, where few funds
are available to generate accurate fisheries catch and stock
data needed for certification.
But the bigger issue is that about half of many retailers'
and distributors' sales are farmed salmon and farmed shrimp,
which are red-listed by most NGOs. Throw those two items out
and very few seafood programs would be sustainable from an
Some NGOs that are not part of the Conservation Alliance
have jumped into the certification fray with their own
sustainable stamp. Friend of the Sea, for example, has
certified more than 100 farmed seafood producers, including
salmon and shrimp. Since each company it certifies has to pony
up 2,000 euros a year, Friend of the Sea may have the most
sustainable economics of any NGO pushing sustainability.
Meanwhile, the Global Aquaculture Alliance has come up with
its own sustainable standards for farmed seafood. And the World
Wildlife Fund is developing its own sustainable standards for
farmed seafood through its Aquaculture Dialogues.
So what's a buyer to do? It is highly unlikely that a widely
accepted standard for farmed seafood will come anytime soon.
The best a buyer can do is to get engaged in the issue, talk
with some NGOs and find one they can work with. Going
sustainable may be smart, but it's not easy.
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle