Our Speech at Marine Stewardship Council Press Conference

Statement from Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Governmental & Public Affairs, Whole Foods Market, Inc.

March 8, 2000

Today, the debut of the Marine Stewardship Council's first certified sustainably harvested seafood, is an exciting day for Whole Foods Market and our customers.

As the largest retailer of natural and organic food, we want to be able to continue over the long-term to provide our customers with fish to buy. However, at the same time, we want to support ecological health and the abundance of marine life. We believe the Marine Stewardship Council's "Fish Forever" certified sustainably managed seafood program accomplishes both.

Critical to its success is the key role that the fisheries have in the process. Comprehensive boycotts, often employed by some groups as an answer to over-fishing, unnecessarily alienates the fishing industry and directly destroys fishing operations who are trying to abide by sound management practices. In contrast, the Marine Stewardship Council's program is based on respect and partnership with the fishing industry to accomplish change-a concept and practice that Whole Foods Market wholeheartedly endorses.

This forging of partnerships with all stakeholders in the process — representatives from fishing operations, fish processors, fish buyers and retailers, government officials, environmentalists, and scientists — is what attracted Whole Foods Market to the Marine Stewardship Council's mission in the first place. Together we created a positive plan towards rebuilding declining seafood populations with the intent to be able to promote sustainable fisheries and responsible fishing practices worldwide. And, rather than remaining an intellectual, philosophical exercise, today's Australian rock lobster debut in the United States as the first Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainably-managed fishery shows that it is a real plan that works.

In addition to the fisheries themselves, our customers are also key components in the plan. If consumers seek out and buy certified sustainably managed fish and seafood, they are sending a clear message, a practical incentive to the fishing industry, that fisheries who practice environmentally sound, economical, and socially responsible fishery management practices will be rewarded in the marketplace.

But will consumers actually go beyond the rhetoric and buy sustainably managed fish and seafood? This was the same question that people had in the early days of the organic industry, an industry that has sustainability of the soil as its underlying principle. Twenty years later, it is a successful, thriving industry supported by consumers who are concerned about the earth and are willing to pay price premiums to farmers and producers who take the extra steps and are certified to follow the organic principles.

Given the overwhelming demand we already have from our consumers to provide them with fish and seafood that is sustainably managed and harvested, we know that if we are able to provide them with product that are truly certified as such, our customers will buy it. And as the Marine Stewardship Council is an international program, it means that we will be able to provide our customers with sustainably caught fish and seafood not just from a single area or focused on a particular species, but eventually from throughout the world. As a certification-based program, it will go beyond mere marketing schemes and have real meaning and value to our customers.

We appreciate the staff of the Marine Stewardship Council and everyone else who helped develop the principles and certification systems of the Fish Forever seal for all the hard work they have done to have such an event as today even possible. We also highly appreciate the Australian rock lobster industry for its long-time commitment to responsible fishery management, helping conserve rock lobster stocks for generations to come. It is proof that partnerships with all stakeholders in the process, working together to rebuild and maintain sustainably managed fisheries can and does work.