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Overfishing, plastic pollution and other problems continue to plague the world’s oceans, but large supermarket chains are getting the message.
Most of the nation’s largest chains — and all of the big ones operating in Arizona — have adopted policies and are taking actions that improve the chances that seafood can be fished or harvested on a sustainable basis, said Greenpeace in a new report.
Nationally, 20 of the 22 supermarket chains that Greenpeace examined received passing scores, including eight big players in Arizona. When the environmental-activist group published its first sustainable-seafood scorecard 10 years ago, every company failed.
Whole Foods topped the list with the most best practices, followed by two companies that don’t operate in Arizona — Hy-Vee and ALDI. Target ranked fourth-best nationally, Albertson’s placed seventh and Sprouts Farmers Market came in eighth.
Nationally, the lowest grades were given to supermarket chains with little or no operations in Arizona, including Price Chopper, Save Mart and Wakefern.
Despite progress in encouraging sustainable-seafood practices, Greenpeace criticized retailers for not doing more to limit the use of plastics, which have been accumulating in oceans worldwide.
The report also cited forced labor as a problem in the seafood industry, with workers, typically from Asian nations, often kept at sea for months on end in fishing boats turned into “floating prisons.”
Greenpeace graded retailers only on their seafood policies — not those tied to plastics or human rights. Sustainable seafood refers to wild-caught or farm-raised fish and shellfish obtained using best-available practices that mitigate overfishing and other environmental fallout.
“It is time for major retailers to put the same energy into tackling the other issues facing our oceans and seafood workers, such as plastic pollution and labor and human rights abuses in seafood supply chains,” said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky, in a prepared statement.
How retailers fared
Whole Foods got the top ranking in this year’s Greenpeace report, helped by adoption of sustainable tuna-harvesting policies (such as catching fish one by one) and improved methods for determining where and how seafood is fished or harvested.
“A shopper interested in canned tuna can walk into any Whole Foods in the country, grab any brand of tuna on the shelf (private label or national brand) and be assured of its sustainability,” said the Greenpeace report.
Whole Foods also got kudos for relying on its own standards for farmed salmon and shrimp, rather than often-incomplete third-party certifications. “These standards raise the bar for aquaculture suppliers regarding environmental standards and animal welfare,” Greenpeace said.
Target moved into the top four, and second-best in Arizona. However, Greenpeace said Target abandoned an earlier pledge by reintroducing farmed salmon in its stores.
Sprouts new to rankings
Sprouts ranked eighth nationally in the first year the Phoenix-based market chain was evaluated by Greenpeace.
“Sprouts has a new sustainable-seafood policy, (has) goals to offer 100-percent sustainable store-brand canned tuna and does not sell unsustainably caught species like Chilean sea bass, bigeye tuna, and orange roughy,” said Pinsky in a note to The Arizona Republic.
Dave McGlinchey, Sprouts’ chief merchandising officer, said the company is committed to providing fresh, sustainable seafood products and is dedicated to operating in a way that honors the health of the environment.
Larger chains operating in Arizona include Albertson’s/Safeway (ranked seventh-best overall), Kroger/Fry’s (11th) and Walmart (13th).
Trader Joe’s (14th) and Costco (15th) each got passing marks but finished near the bottom of retailers operating in Arizona. More than eight years after Trader Joe’s committed to improving its sustainable-seafood practices, the retailer doesn’t have a solid policy in place for buying seafood caught in a sustainable manner, the report said.
Other high-seas problems
None of the 22 retailers has a comprehensive policy to reduce and phase out reliance on single-use plastic, primarily for packaging, said Greenpeace. The equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic is dumped or flows into oceans every minute, the report said.
Earlier this year, Greenpeace released “Misery at Sea,” a report that documents illegal fishing and human-rights abuses in Taiwan’s fishing fleet, focusing on Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Co., which supplies many American supermarket chains.
Greenpeace is critical of “fish aggregating devices” or artificial, floating objects that attract schools of tuna and inadvertently kill other sea life including turtles, sharks and other fish. Relatively benign methods include fish caught by pole and line and hand lines and troll-caught fish.
More information on these and other problems can be seen by reading the “Carting Away the Oceans” report at greenpeace.org/usa.
Grading the supermarkets
Greenpeace evaluated retailers in four key areas. As noted, its ratings were based only on sustainable-seafood practices (or the lack thereof), not on plastics or labor practices in the fishing industry. These were the four areas of focus:
- Greenpeace checked to see if supermarket chains have policies or systems in place to determine how seafood is purchased, with the goal of avoiding suppliers that pursue destructive practices.
- Retailers were evaluated based on whether they follow policies such as avoiding seafood procured under illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing. Greenpeace cited tuna transshipped at sea, from small vessels to big ships, as a practice that can keep trafficked workers at sea for months at a time.
- The group evaluated supermarkets based on their in-store, website and other communications to customers on sustainable-seafood issues, such as labeling where seafood comes from and how it was caught or raised.
- The organization checked to see which of 26 common seafood species were sold by each company, with an eye on wanting to avoid depleted types as determined by a watch list published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
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Actions for consumers
Supermarkets are sensitive to customer preferences. Greenpeace urged consumers to make their voices heard and vote with their dollars. It offered the following tips that shoppers can follow to encourage sustianable-seafood practices:
- Avoid certain species. Greenpeace urged consumers not to buy orange roughy, Chilean sea bass or bigeye tuna. Shoppers can check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to see which species should be avoided.
- Be wary of tuna. Greenpeace urged consumers to avoid tuna if they can’t tell where or how it’s caught. The report said suppliers that don’t guarantee sustainable and ethical products include Fong Chun Formosa Fishery, Bumble Bee and StarKist.
- Eat less seafood. Reducing seafood consumption now can help ensure fish for the future. Current demand far outweighs what can be sustainably sourced, Greenpeace said.
- Join the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement if you’re concerned about plastic pollution. Greenpeace is asking shoppers to favor retailers that have announced plans to reduce their plastic footprints. It encouraged consumers to take photos of ridiculously overpackaged items and to post the photos on social-media outlets.
Despite progress in recent years, Greenpeace cautioned that more needs to be done.
“The work over this next decade is critical to ensuring healthy oceans teeming with marine life, where seafood workers are treated fairly and coastal fishers are able to provide for their families without suffering exploitation from industrial fishing fleets,” the report said.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8616.
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