While sustainability is gaining steam in the seafood section of grocery retailers across Canada, many issues remain to be resolved. While some grocery chains and processors have taken the plunge and aligned themselves with a sustainability program, not all companies are going with the same programs, causing others to take pause. In addition, the various sustainability initiatives available and a lack of effective communication about their meaning is causing confusion among consumers and processors – all of which is making progress towards adoption of sustainable practices slower than it could be.
Some initiatives, such as that offered by environmental group Greenpeace, provide a seafood sustainability ranking of North American grocery store chains. The ranking is based on factors such as sustainability policy, labelling and transparency, and number of Red List (threatened) species for sale. Chains operating in Canada that are ranked through this program include Costco, A&P and Food Basics.
Other retailers have developed their own initiatives, at least in terms of aquaculture. Whole Foods, for example, released its own sustainability standards for farm-raised fish and shrimp in July 2008. And Toronto-area grocery chain Longo’s was the first in Canada to offer farmed Heritage Salmon, which is third-party certified through the Seafood Trust Eco Label. However, like many others, Longo’s is still unsure about what shape its wild-caught sustainable seafood policy will take. “We haven’t yet decided,” says Longo’s Fish and Seafood category manager Joe Nacevic. “We have been investigating and researching information through various sources and organizations to explore all of our options.” The company has already stopped selling species, such as Chilean Sea Bass, from fisheries deemed unsustainable.
For most Canadian grocers, the choice comes down to the two biggest players on the sustainable seafood scene: Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and SeaChoice. MSC was co-founded by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1996. International in scope – and the only sustainable seafood program fully compliant with standards developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – it involves third-party certification of both fisheries and their associated chains of custody. MSC receives only a small royalty from logo use.
Eleven per cent of all Canadian “landings” are presently MSC-certified, and another 25 per cent are engaged in becoming certified, says Kerry Coughlin, MSC Communications director, Americas.