No need to whip out your Seafood Watch app at the Whole Foods Market fish counter anymore. The national retailer just applied the same color-coded sustainability-rating program for wild-caught fish throughout their 298 stores, and even better, have committed to eliminating red-listed wild fish from their counters by Earth Day 2013.
Wild-caught red-rated species will remain for sale at Whole Foods for the time being, but will be prominently labeled. Guiding customers towards making better seafood choices are fish labeled with a green rating, including wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut or Dungeness crab. Species that will be phased out include grouper, monkfish, skate and red snapper.
In making the move, Whole Foods Market has chosen to partner with Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Both organizations evaluate seafood and assign a color-coded rating to fish ranging from mackerel to tuna, based on species abundance, habitat impacts, fishery management, bycatch and more. It's not the retailer's first seafood partnership. In 1999, the chain began working with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for wild-caught seafood.
The rating system is designed to make decision-making easier for customers. A green rating indicates a best choice, meaning the species is both abundant and caught using sustainable methods. A yellow rating, applied to fish like Mahi Mahi or Pacific flounder means some concerns exist, but overall, it remains a good alternative. A red rating means the fish should be avoided because of issues like overfishing, habitat destruction, etc.
"The new program is for wild caught seafood only, and for fish not currently certified by MSC," says Carrie Brownstein, seafood quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. "We started this new program to provide transparency because our customers wanted that information, and part of our overall goal is to move our stores and the whole seafood industry to healthier oceans."
For now, however, the program does not apply to farm-raised fish like Atlantic salmon (despite it's red rating by Seafood Watch and Blue Ocean Institute), or to Whole Foods' sushi counters, which are run by outside vendors.
"We're focused on the seafood departments right now," says Brownstein.