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Next Up: Standards for Farmed Oysters, Clams and Mussels

By Carrie Brownstein, October 21, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Carrie Brownstein
The last few years have been busy ones for the Seafood Quality Standards team at Whole Foods Market. We implemented new aquaculture standards for farmed finfish and shrimp and we launched our wild species ranking program — making our seafood cases more colorful and rich with information. Now the wild-caught seafood in our fresh cases carry either the MSC-certified label to indicate the seafood is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or if it’s not certified, the color-coded sustainability status rankings by partnering organizations, Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Our farmed finfish and shrimp carry our Responsibly Farmed logo, indicating that the farms have been third-party audited to ensure that our strict aquaculture standards are being met. But we’re not done yet. In our effort to move closer to fully sustainable seafood departments, we’ve got one group of seafood left to cover: farmed bivalve molluscs—oysters, clams and mussels. That’s just a technical way of saying farmed shellfish, but in an effort not confuse these animals with other shellfish like shrimp and lobster, we’re calling them by their real names—bivalve molluscs (or for the non-scientific spelling: “mollusks”).What does developing new standards entail, anyway? The process begins with a lot of research. As the seafood quality standards coordinator, the first thing I do is get my hands on stacks of published literature on shellfish science. Then I go to the source and talk with the scientists who published the papers. I spoke with experts in the US, Canada, Spain and New Zealand to name a few. I also attended the National Shellfisheries Association conference in Baltimore where shellfish scientists gather to share and discuss their work. One-on-one meetings with scientists on the topics of ecosystem carrying capacity and benthic impacts were the highlights. For me, the rewarding part of this process is that we really go into depth on all the issues we cover, ensuring that we understand the research and the repercussions of the decisions that we make for our supplier partners. When I needed to better understand how oyster seed is bred at the hatchery, for example, I drove to Washington’s Olympic peninsula and spent hours with Joth Davis, fisheries scientist at Taylor Hatchery. Fortunately, we don’t just sit at our desks. A big part of standards development takes place at the farms, where we spend hours with growers learning about the process of growing farmed molluscs. So far this standards process has taken me to farms in Washington, California, Connecticut, Prince Edward Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland and Florida, to name a few sites. When I’m lucky, others on our team will join me. Special trips include working with scientists, both local and from afar. As part of our work to develop standards for benthic impacts from farming — i.e., to ensure the health of sediments under and near the farm sites — I traveled to a Chesapeake Bay oyster farm with Jon Grant from Dalhousie University to collect and analyze sediment samples. We’re interested because even though farmed molluscs do not receive formulated feed like some other types of farmed seafood, organic loading (build-up of carbon-based waste from animal/plant matter) can still occur.  Many scientists agree that while cultured molluscs provide benefits to ecosystems, organic loading to the sediments is something to avoid. We had a great opportunity to meet up with Jeff Cornwell from the University of Maryland, who explained his research to us. Once we digest all the info we’ve collected, we draft standards and review them internally through a task force that includes buyers and the standards development team. That’s where we are right now. Next, we’ll request feedback from a range of experts, including scientists, producers and environmental groups. From there we’ll continue to refine the standards until they’re complete. It’s a long, involved process. Ultimately, we aim for standards that set the bar high for aquaculture performance and are the result of a highly collaborative process. So, when you start seeing our logo for Responsibly Farmed seafood on clams, oysters and mussels sometime next year, you’ll have an understanding of all the work that goes into developing our standards.
Category: Seafood




Herbalife says ...
That sounds a great deal of effort. You guys are incredible. Thanks for getting the best for us!
10/22/2011 1:26:44 AM CDT
Lisa Brownstein says ...
makes me feel safe and secure buying fish at Whole Foods. Never understand or realize the depth of study that goes into this process. Yea to you and Whole Foods for being the leaders. Who are the people in the pictures? I would like to see a picture of Carrie there too.
10/22/2011 2:50:58 PM CDT
Erick says ...
Mmmmmmm....oysters. Warms my heart to know that you're doing what you can to make sure we have yummy and sustainable seafood. Keep up the good work.
10/22/2011 4:44:51 PM CDT
Barry Kaufman says ...
cosidering the amount of seafood I eat...it's comforting to know we have reliable watchdogs concerned with both the consumer and the sustainability of our future oceans food supplies and it's health..Thank you
10/24/2011 4:20:00 PM CDT
Ray Teets says ...
wow, this sounds like great work. It's great to know that the standards take into account both the scientific research, and also the day to day operations of farmers. nice job!
10/25/2011 9:58:15 PM CDT
Jan Teets says ...
Thanks for your description of how the standards are set, really interesting! I'll think of this as I enjoy Mussels Josephine in our favorite restaurant....not knowing, of course, if they are nearly as aware of such standards as you are. I may have to find a good recipe to learn to make at home!
11/08/2011 8:55:09 AM CST
K.Foster says ...
<Went to my local W.F. this week (in GA) for the frozen pints of clams (no shell) that were available this fall. This irreplaceable, ultra-convenient item was perfect for a quick, warming chowder. They were nowhere to be found. What happened? Out of season? Don't meet your standards? Sure do miss them! Thanks
01/16/2012 12:47:34 PM CST
janejohnson says ...
@K.Foster There could be a miriad of variables that would influence the availability of frozen clam pints. For the best, most accurate information it's best to reach out to your community Whole Foods Market directly. I have included a link to contact a Georgia store below. Thanks for reaching out! http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/poncedeleon/
01/23/2012 12:05:17 PM CST
Sandy Gumm says ...
I live in northern AZ ... NO FRESH SEAFOOD!!!! SO when recently in CT and MA with family, we feasted on Pickle Point oysters from the Dedham MA store. These were the sweetest, creamiest, tenderest oyster I have ever had ... NO TOPPINGS NEEDED. And at $1.29 ea ... well let's just say the feast went on and on. Thank you for all the fine and safe seafoods you offer.
03/07/2013 11:12:23 PM CST
Allan Haeberle says ...
Hello! I am in search of New Zealand Green-lip Mussels!!! I used to be able to purchase them locally, but not anymore. Then I found a place on the East coast that I ordered from. Now, they no longer are in business. I have searched the internet, but with no luck. Does Whole Foods carry them or able to locate them? Thanks for your help.
12/24/2014 10:54:13 AM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@ALLAN - Our exact products differ between stores. Check with your local store to find out if they have these in stock or if they can special order it for you!
12/24/2014 1:57:52 PM CST
Bob Rheault says ...
Carrie, I was hoping to get a copy of your standards. I was on the team of scientists that wrote the standards for WWF - ASC and I wanted to see how they compared. Also, who would be the proper person to send comments to your Seafood Quality Standards Team? best, Bob Rheault, PhD.
05/12/2015 1:07:59 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@BOB - You can find a list of the standards at http://assets.wholefoodsmarket.com/www/missions-values/seafood-sustainability/WFM_Quality_Standards-for-Farmed_Bivalve_Molluscs.Version%202.0_Jan.%201.2015.pdf.
05/12/2015 2:54:17 PM CDT