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Jul 012009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When you fish for seafood at your local grocery, it can be difficult to tell whether you are supporting sustainable fishing practices.

Was the snapper you selected caught using legal, sustainable fishing practices? Should you even be buying it? Is the Chilean Sea Bass you just purchased on the “Red List” of jeopardized marine species? Does the grocery you’re patronizing buy seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council?

Greenpeace is trying to help you sort it all out – and assure that groceries do not ignore the need to keep our oceans and fisheries healthy.

The worldwide conservation group published its third “Carting Away the Oceans” scorecard on Tuesday, outing several grocery chains that flout efforts to support sustainable seafood methods and lauding the stores that are helping conservationists.

The group is calling on customers to stop shopping for seafood at the lowest ranked stores, which have made little or no effort to support ocean ecosystems by selling sustainble seafood, including such large chains as Costco, Publix and Trader Joes.

The scorecard assessed and ranked the top 20 U.S. grocery chains on their green seafood credentials, giving top marks to Wegmans, Ahold USA, Whole Foods, Target, Safeway, Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart. These stores have all made strides toward responsible seafood buying and selling, though they may be innovating in different ways, Greenpeace reported.

Wegman’s, which was ranked number one on the list, for instance, has created a public sustainable seafood policy and supports a variety of initiatives aimed at supporting practices that preserve ocean ecosystems. The New York-based chain’s seafood policy dictates that wild-caught fish be properly reported and that capture methods meet certain standards; the store also buys from aquaculture groups that aim to avoid using pesticides, antibiotics and wild fish as feed. It actively seeks out items that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and has removed several red list seafood species, though not all, from its inventory.

Privately owned Wegman’s, which operates 70 stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, provides in-store information to educate customers about seafood sustainability.

Ahold, listed number two on the Greenpeace list, operates as Stop & Shop, Giant and Martin’s Food Markets and is owned by Royal Ahold of the Netherlands. It deserves good marks for developing the “Choice Catch” program under which it avoids buying illegally caught seafood and takes ecological impacts into account, Greenpeace reported.

Ahold also gives preference to farmed seafood that is pesticide and antibiotic-free, but could do a better job of in-store education, according to the score card. Ahold has announced they will no longer sell Chilean sea bass, orange roughy and shark (they already have stopped sales of bluefin tuna and Atlantic halibut) but still sell other jeopardized seafood, the report said.

Whole Foods and Target (third and fourth on the Greenpeace list) also have worked to eliminate many unsustainable items from their inventory, though fast-growing Whole Foods, which previously ranked number one on Greenpeace’s seafood score card, continues to offer “a tremendous amount of red list seafood options.”