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New Wild-Caught Seafood Sustainability Ratings


Hey readers, big news! We've just launched a new sustainability ratings program for wild-caught seafood. Through this partnership with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, our customers can now use color-coded ratings to make informed decisions about their seafood purchases. And with our promise to phase out all red-rated sources by Earth Day 2013, we've deepened our commitment to having fully sustainable seafood departments.

This new initiative builds upon the partnership that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council since 1999 and it complements Whole Foods Market's existing farmed seafood standards, which remain the highest standards in the industry. It's all part of our overall effort to move our seafood purchasing, and the seafood industry as a whole, towards healthier oceans and greater sustainability.What's important to know about the ratings program is that our partners, Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, use solid, science-based methods for evaluating species and fisheries. They're transparent with their criteria, methods, and ratings. Anyone can go online on their websites and review the ratings. Note that we're using the ratings only on wild-caught seafood from fisheries not certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). MSC-certified seafood already undergoes a rigorous process to become certified.

Another important thing is that ratings aren't set in stone; there's opportunity to improve. Fisheries that are ranked yellow or red may be able to improve by implementing stronger management measures, or by changing the way they fish to reduce bycatch or impacts on habitat. Green or "best choice" ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways. Our stores already feature a number of green-rated species. Having green rated species is critical because it demonstrates that fish populations can be healthy and that fisheries can be sustainably managed. Yellow or "good alternative" ratings mean some concerns exist with the species' status or catch methods; and red or "avoid" ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. We're evaluating the red-rated fisheries to see if changes can be made to improve fishing practices and ultimately earn a higher rating.

A few people have asked, "if it's red-rated, why not stop selling it right now?" Actually, we already stopped selling especially vulnerable red-rated species such as non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks, and marlins (with the exception of Hawaii-caught blue marlin, sold only in Hawaii stores). Under this new program, all swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries will be eliminated from seafood counters by Earth Day 2011. And by Earth Day 2012, all other seafood from red-rated fisheries will be discontinued with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will be sold through Earth Day 2013. In the meantime, we're evaluating the red-rated fisheries to see if changes can be made to improve fishing practices. Some fishermen have worked with us for many years so it's a partnership and a process that takes a little time to change.So, check out these new color ratings in our seafood departments and let us know what you think.Also, watch Margaret Wittenberg, Whole Foods Market's Global Vice President of Quality Standards and Public Affairs live in our Austin store explaining the new program below and visit our Navigating Sustainability page to get more information about the new rankings program, as well as the other seafood sustainability efforts and quality standards already in place at Whole Foods Market. 'Til next time….
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