« July 2006 Table of Contents
Seafood FAQ: Sustainability programs are gaining ground
Seafood buyers find that resource preservation and profitability go hand in hand
By Lauren Kramer
July 01, 2006
Making money and doing the right thing don't often go
hand-in-hand, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch
program, now in only its seventh year, is proof that businesses
can do both. Moreover, the program influences consumers' buying
habits across North America and the sourcing systems of major
foodservice providers. It's the old story of David versus
Goliath, and David appears to be making headway.
Seafood Watch was founded in 1999 with a mandate to help
consumers, restaurants and retailers choose seafood from
well-managed fisheries. The rationale was that good buying
decisions could help preserve the health of wild species in the
face of overfishing.
One of the program's first tasks was to convince Bon Appétit
Management, the company responsible for foodservice at the
Monterey Bay Aquarium, to follow the specifications on a list
that outlined seafood species as "Best Choices," "Good
Alternatives" or those to "Avoid" in purchasing for the
aquarium's restaurant facilities.
"It was a big adjustment to make, and we started slowly,"
says Maisie Ganzler, director of communications and strategic
initiatives at Bon Appétit.
"Our first directive to our chefs at this facility was,
'Here's the information; try to make good choices.'"
By 2004, Bon Appétit had adopted the Seafood Watch list as a
non-negotiable standard at its 400-plus foodservice venues
nationwide, including corporations, colleges and universities
and specialty venues like museums.
"For a social-responsibility program to have validity and
meaning, it's important that it's backed up by science," notes
Ganzler. "In that respect, our partnership with Seafood Watch
has been crucial to our moving forward with confidence and
security that we're doing the right thing."
Purchasing by the list is not simple. Bon Appétit facilities
do not serve farmed salmon, because it's on the "Avoid" list,
which means that if wild salmon is unavailable, there's no
salmon on the menu.
"At first, some of our customers were put out that they
couldn't have Chilean sea bass, for example. But when we
explained why, they understood and applauded our decision,"
Bon Appétit has not increased its seafood expenditures to
make sustainable seafood choices.
"There are great options that are sustainable and
inexpensive, like tilapia, catfish and some farmed shellfish,"
Ganzler points out. "The Seafood Watch program has
significantly changed the way we do business at Bon Appétit and
has become part of our culture. It's a program that our chefs
and managers are proud to be connected to."
The ripple effect has even reached the Compass Group, Bon
Appétit's parent company. Compass Group is creating a
sustainable-seafood program for its other North American-based
companies, which include Eurest Dining Services, Chartwells,
Morrison Management Specialists, Restaurant Associates and Levy
Restaurants. The foodservice giant, whose Americas Division is
worth $7.5 billion, will be changing its seafood-buying habits
in the next three years.
By 2009, Compass Group will replace Atlantic cod with
Pacific cod or pollock, reduce its farmed salmon and farmed
shrimp purchases by 20 percent, eliminate all other species
from Seafood Watch's "Avoid" list and promote the use of the
program's "Best Choices."
"One of the things we don't do at Seafood Watch is actively
give folks incentives," says George Leonard, science manager
for the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program. "We try to educate
restaurants and retailers about the issues and hope they change
their practices because it's the right thing to do."
The program has distributed more than 4 million Seafood
Watch pocket guides to consumers since 2002. The aquarium
recently surveyed guests about Seafood Watch, and eight in 10
acknowledged that the program had influenced their knowledge
and awareness of sustainability issues and altered their
seafood-purchasing habits over the long term.
Recently, Monterey Bay started working with restaurants
outside the Compass Group and within six months partnered with
30 restaurants that are committed to adhering to the Seafood
That restaurant program has been mimicked in Vancouver,
British Columbia, by the Vancouver Aquarium, which started
its Ocean Wise program in January 2005 to work with local chefs
and restaurant owners to reduce the number of unsustainable
seafood items on their menus.
Participating restaurants agree to complete a menu
assessment, promote sustainable species and remove at least one
unsustainable item from their menu every six months.
"Ocean Wise emerged from the relationship we'd built with
the Seafood Watch program, because we felt that while their
information is great, it can be difficult for a consumer to
find sustainable options at a store or restaurant," says Jason
Boyce, manager of conservation programs at the Vancouver
Twenty-seven restaurants have signed onto Ocean Wise and are
sharing information about suppliers. Robert Clarke, corporate
chef at C Restaurant in Vancouver and one of the founding
members of Ocean Wise, is overjoyed with the program.
"We were sourcing our own responsibly harvested seafood
products in British Columbia for the last seven years, and it
was a difficult process connecting directly with the seafood
industry," he says. "We didn't get into this to increase
business - we got into this because it's a necessity."
Over the years, Clarke had seen a decline in the quality and
size of the seafood he was preparing in this upscale seafood
"We started to investigate why this was happening, and the
deeper we dug, the uglier the picture got," he says. "For
example, the quality of Chilean sea bass was really bad, and
then we found out how poorly managed the fishery was and all
about the poaching. We've found a local sablefish, marketed as
Alaska black cod, that's just as good as Chilean sea bass."
But the biggest change, Clarke says, is the sense of
community that's emerged from Ocean Wise, along with the
combined buying power of the participating restaurants.
"Seven years ago, when we were trying to source responsibly
harvested seafood, suppliers told us it couldn't be done. Now,
because we have 27 restaurants behind us, they're taking us
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British