Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Catch the Reel Big News: No Red-Rated Seafood

By Elizabeth Leader Smith, March 31, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Elizabeth Leader Smith

At Whole Foods Market, we’ve been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we’ve used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice.

Now we’re putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!

That’s right, beginning this Earth Day — April 22 — we will no longer carry red-rated wild-caught fish in our seafood departments. This move, which comes one year ahead of our self-imposed deadline of Earth Day 2013, makes us the first national grocer to stop selling red-rated seafood.

Back in 1999 Whole Foods Market was the first US retailer to offer Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified seafood, and each year we continue to offer our customers more and more MSC-certified seafood options.

Wild-caught seafood from fisheries certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council is the top choice for sustainability, and we offer the widest selection available, from Alaska salmon and Pacific halibut to Nova Scotia harpoon-caught swordfish and Pacific cod. We’ve also got plenty of MSC-certified frozen fillets, seafood appetizers and more that are easy on the wallet and simple to prepare.

Since 2010, we’ve worked with the nonprofit research organizations Blue Ocean Institute (BOI) and Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) to display their color-coded sustainability ratings to help our customers make informed choices when selecting wild-caught seafood.

(Your local store has chosen to display ratings by either BOI or MBA. Please note that the ratings have slight differences.)

  • Green / best choice: species are abundant and caught in environmentally friendly ways
  • Yellow / good alternative: species with some concerns about their status or catch methods
  • Red / avoid: species suffer from overfishing or the current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats

As of April 22, all our wild-caught seafood is either certified by the MSC, or is yellow or green-rated. That means we’ll no longer sell the following red-rated species:

  • Atlantic Halibut
  • Grey Sole (Atlantic)
  • Octopus (all)
  • Skate Wing
  • Sturgeon
  • Swordfish (from specific areas and catch methods rated “red” by our partners)
  • Tautog
  • Trawl-caught Atlantic Cod
  • Tuna (from from specific areas and catch methods rated “red” by our partners)
  • Turbot
  • Imported wild shrimp
  • Rockfish (only certain species)

Also, if you weren’t aware, we haven’t sold orange roughy, shark or blue fin tuna for several years. By eliminating red-rated seafood, we’re doing our part to reverse trends of overfishing and bycatch, and we believe that together, with our partners and customers, we can spark (pardon the pun) a sea change.

If you’re looking for responsibly sourced alternatives to your usual seafood choice, our skilled fishmongers will gladly give you their recommendations. They can also fillet, cut-to-order and provide cooking tips and recipe ideas, too. We’re concerned with environmentally friendly farm-raised seafood, too. Learn more about our strict Quality Standards for Aquaculture on our website.

We’re very excited about this change at our seafood counters and want to know what you think. Does responsibly caught seafood matter to you?




Tanya says ...
Yay! Like everyone else, I applaud the decision and hope all grocery stores will be like this one day.
04/10/2012 7:14:34 AM CDT
Shari says ...
It's about time! For years I've wondered why Whole Foods seemed to condone the consumption (and thereby the depletion) of species that were in danger. The color-coding was nice, but by selling, you were still part of the problem. Kudos to finally doing the right thing, I hope other retailers will follow suit.
04/10/2012 8:31:09 AM CDT
philosophia says ...
This is so great! People won't buy what's not offered to them, after all. Keep it up.
04/10/2012 8:11:40 PM CDT
Angel says ...
This is exactly why I shop at Whole Foods. You step up and offer the best, but you don't just do the talk you walk the walk. Congrats to you guys.
04/10/2012 2:27:35 PM CDT
JT says ...
I support your decision to recognize sustainable industries and overfishing. However, please do take a look at where your farm-raised seafood products come from. In many cases the quality of farm-raised seafood is inferior to wild-caught because of poor farming conditions and lack of natural diet and exercise. This can be easily compared to poor farming conditions on land where chickens are fed unnatural grains to fatten them up, which results in an unhealthy chemical imbalance in the meat we eat. They can sometimes be house in confined quarters which also create toxins in the animal/fish. As a next step, just as our Whole Foods looks into grass-fed beef and free-range chickens, can they also set up categories for us to ensure that our seafood products are of good, natural quality as well. Please do not depend on the USDA. We know how that will all end up. Mahalo.
04/13/2012 8:28:48 PM CDT
Jonathan says ...
That's great news. I'm unclear, though. Are you eliminating all tuna, or just some tuna?
04/13/2012 3:51:01 PM CDT
Daniel Smith says ...
Thank you for your commitment - this is so important to preserve the fisheries being depleted and to send a message to the corporate interests involved in this scorched earth policy when in comes to depleting fish stocks worldwide that customers are aware of their activities and stores like Whole Foods will not enable them.
04/12/2012 2:22:29 PM CDT
Johnny MELONE says ...
Great decision on your choice to sell only fish that are harvested in a sustainable manner .... And to not sell species whose numbers are low Well done!!!M
03/31/2012 9:58:52 AM CDT
Kenny Redin says ...
I'm very, very proud of your actions concerning our seafood world-wide stock. You have set the standard for our seafood concerns and being a sport fisherman and only eat what I catch, I salute you on your stopping selling overharvested seafood. And your position to stop selling octopus...that's most commendable. Thank you from me and thousands of concerned ocean lovers for continuing the proper steps to save our oceans. I'll continue to shop Whole Foods forever.
03/31/2012 2:30:42 PM CDT
Kim G says ...
YES!!! I came to this site specifically to tell you how happy I am you did this. You are a market leader and as such have a responsibility to do it right. Good going, Whole Foods.
03/31/2012 3:31:52 PM CDT
D. Sullivan says ...
Of course this matters,our oceans wildlife are in trouble! Thank you so much for doing the right thing... our grandchildren may thank us one day... See the movie "End of the Line" it will change the way you view our oceans.
04/01/2012 9:09:46 AM CDT
Megan says ...
@Jonathan, we are still selling troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna from the US or Canadian Pacific, which is green-rated.
04/17/2012 10:52:48 AM CDT
Casey says ...
A breath of fresh air! Or fresh water I guess... No, probably salt water for the most part :)
04/02/2012 3:05:41 PM CDT
marlene says ...
I am always amused by the skeptics-Fred and Keith- I know of no other store that even attempts to be as responsible as Whole Foods. I appreciate your efforts and only wish you could educate more people. Not everyone reads the website, maybe more in store education?
04/19/2012 9:07:35 AM CDT
Katy says ...
Yes, I think this is wonderful, and the best choice we can make for our planet. Thank you for being a leader! :-)
04/03/2012 10:50:03 AM CDT
Mark says ...
Bravo!! More of us need to get on the same page,if we want to change the way we protect this earth.Thank you !! :)
04/03/2012 12:07:33 PM CDT
Ann says ...
Thank you so much for all that you do for the planet and for promoting humane treatment of farmed animals.
04/04/2012 12:36:23 PM CDT
Bettie Wright says ...
Thank you so much for all you do-- so enjoy shopping at your Stores
04/04/2012 12:48:02 PM CDT
Keith says ...
Rather than celebrate finally deciding not to carry over-fished seafood, Whole Foods should explain why it has taken so long to make this decision. I stopped purchasing seafood from Whole Foods long ago because of their irresponsible policy and too little too late won't bring me back.
04/04/2012 12:57:35 PM CDT
St. McDuck says ...
Better now than never. I only shop for seafood and other meats at Whole Foods, and this new policy is an example of why. Now if Whole Foods would stop carrying genetically modified (GMO) foods (such as Kashi and Quaker), that could cause an even bigger change.
04/04/2012 1:09:46 PM CDT
fred perri says ...
Please send me the same response you send Keith. This whole thing sounds fishy to me. Thanx! Fred
04/04/2012 2:01:20 PM CDT
Alan says ...
Thank you for making it as simple as possible to enjoy seafood responsibly
04/04/2012 2:02:03 PM CDT
Veronica says ...
Thank you Whole Foods for leading the way!
04/04/2012 2:51:45 PM CDT
gfood says ...
THANK YOU!!! can we have more meat/poultry products rated 5!!
04/04/2012 5:17:51 PM CDT
Nancy says ...
Thank you for caring!! Ilove your store.
04/04/2012 5:39:40 PM CDT