Last September, we unveiled our color-coded, science-based sustainability ratings for wild-caught seafood created by our partners, Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium. At the time, we said that we would seek out ways to source swordfish and tuna more sustainably as part of a larger initiative to move toward fully sustainable seafood departments — and we have!Whole Foods Market’s skilled seafood buyers source tuna and swordfish from green- and yellow-rated fisheries such as those using handlines (a fishing method that uses a single baited line to catch one fish at a time), which have low to no bycatch.
One of the new sources of green- and yellow-rated tuna comes from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where fishermen catch tuna traditionally using a low-impact pole and line. Elsewhere, most tuna is caught with nets or longlines, which can capture not only the targeted catch, but also juvenile tuna and large amounts of bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds, earning some of these fisheries a red-rating.Whole Foods Market buyers have also formed partnerships with a variety of small green-rated swordfish fisheries in the United States — in Florida, for example — and are looking for more. These U.S. day boats also use low-impact handline fishing gear. Scott Taylor, co-owner of Florida-based Day Boat Seafood, one of our suppliers, puts it like this:“We are not only committed to amazingly fresh seafood but to making sure that fish stocks can be replenished so that we can keep fishing responsibly for many years to come. We truly value our partnership with Whole Foods Market because the company has demonstrated a loyalty and genuine commitment to our fishermen, this process and the environment.”
The color-coded ratings in our seafood department make it easy for our customers informed choices. Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; 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. The ratings supplement the sustainable seafood partnership that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council since 1999.We love how our customers flex their buying power to prompt change and help reverse trends of overfishing, exploitation and depletion in so many fisheries. Whole Foods Market is proud of our partnerships with Blue Ocean Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium, MSC and with our buyers, fishermen and fishery managers. We are thrilled to have found fisheries that can provide better environmental choices to support the ecological health of our oceans and the abundance of marine life for generations to come.
And, we will continue to seek out more sustainable sources of all red-rated wild-caught seafood, which will be phased out of our stores by Earth Day 2012 (with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole that are slated for phase out by Earth Day 2013). This timing gives us the opportunity to evaluate 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.Whole Foods Market’s wild-caught seafood rating program and partnerships complement its existing farmed seafood standards, which remain the highest in the industry. The company requires third-party audits and traceability from farm to market and prohibits use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives like sulfites and phosphates, genetically-modified seafood and land animal by-products in feed. Farmed seafood at Whole Foods Market carries the “Responsibly Farmed” logo to indicate it meets these high standards.Curious about handline fishing? Watch this video.Tell us what you think! Is sustainability important to you when it comes to your seafood purchases?