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The Results Are In: How Sustainable Is the Seafood Sold at Major U.S. Supermarkets?

Greenpeace just released their Carting Away the Oceans report and Target has topped the list of the most sustainable retailer. See who's trailing them and who's missed the boat.
 
 
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It's been two years since Greenpeace released our first assessment of the sustainability of seafood sold at major U.S. supermarkets. The scorecard released today marks the fourth installment of the Carting Away the Oceans project, and while last year's leaders have maintained their presence at the top of the chart, they've certainly jostled around a bit.

Target has now taken over the top spot, largely due to a new purchasing policy that resulted in the removal of all farmed salmon products from their stores. This policy is still in nascent stages; word on the street is that Target is now wrestling with other thorny seafood complexes, such as farmed shrimp and tuna. No doubt even more impressive steps are still to come.

Wegmans continues to scale the rankings at an admirable pace, this time taking second place overall. Even though it is by the far the smallest chain appraised by the Carting Away the Oceans in terms of total stores, Wegmans has outdistanced most of the other retailers through their strong policy development and, most recently, their announcement that they will not sell any seafood from the environmentally fragile Ross Sea. This Antarctic body of water is the world's most pristine shallow sea, and Wegmans has publicly announced that they are not interested in selling any seafood that is caught at the expense of this delicate area. At this point, that includes Antarctic toothfish (sold as Chilean sea bass) and krill. I am extraordinarily impressed by Wegmans' stance on this issue - it bespeaks a seafood retailer that is truly taking responsibility for its environmental footprint. Hopefully other retailers will follow Wegmans' lead and stand up to protect the Ross Sea.

Whole Foods and Safeway have also made significant gains. Whole Foods now boasts the most complete seafood policy of any major retailer in the United States - unfortunately, the company continues to sell a great number of red list seafood items. If Whole Foods proves willing to discontinue its sale of Atlantic halibut, hoki, Chilean seabass, and other imperiled species, it will undoubtedly find itself back on top of the charts. Safeway has recently joined forces with the environmental organization FishWise, which is working behind the scenes to help the gargantuan retailer move towards a more sustainable seafood operation. In the short time the two groups have been partnered, Safeway has dropped monkfish and red snapper and pledged to support necessary protection measures for the critically endangered bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico. This is fabulous progress.

Ahold slipped in the overall rankings this time around, but that doesn't mean that the chain isn't making progress. Ahold excels at communicating sustainability information to its consumer base, and now that its purchasing policy is publicly available, it is leading the pack in overall transparency. If Ahold took some steps towards diminishing its red list seafood inventory and stepped up its game in initiative participation - perhaps by appending its name to the “No seafood from the Ross Sea” petition - the company would again be in the running for the brass ring.

In addition to these consistent leaders, some retailers that had been sources for concern have made tremendous progress. A&P has recently taken a flying leap into the seafood sustainability arena, discontinuing many unsustainable species and launching itself upwards by a larger margin than any other retailer since the 2009 Carting Away the Oceans report. Price Chopper, too, has started to engage the issue, and while the chain still slings a shocking variety of unsustainable seafood items - including shark - it has at least begun crafting a sensible seafood sourcing policy.

 
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