Where to buy the best fish? That's a tough question, given the complicated nature of sourcing seafood. Recent reports show seafood fraud is a major problem, in that people aren't always getting what they pay for. An even greater concern involves the fact that we're fishing our oceans dry, damaging vital habitat young fish need to thrive and survive, and killing lots of non-target species in the process.
In May, Greenpeace released its 2013 Carting Away the Oceans report, an analysis that rates major food retailers on their methods of obtaining fish to sell in popular stores. Available online, the report makes a powerful tool for consumers wanting to make smarter seafood choices.
The good news, Greenpeace says, is this report—the seventh edition—includes many reasons to smile. For instance, Trader Joe's used a combination of progressive sourcing policies, joined political initiatives to protect oceans, and eliminated red list items (some of the most threatened fish) to jump up 13 spots to a favorable No. 3 rating.
While Walmart finished in the middle of the pack, the chain made great strides by introducing tuna caught without fish aggregating devices (FADs), floating objects that lure in not just skipjack for chunk light tuna, but also tens of thousands of sharks, rays, young tuna, and other threatened species annually. (Greenpeace is campaigning for companies like Chicken of the Sea, Starkist, and Bumblebee to abandon FADs and to adopt more sustainable ﬁshing methods.)
There's lots of work still to be done, but looking at ocean-friendly initiatives, the number of threatened red list species sold, transparency, and smart ocean policy, the latest Greenpeace findings show that many companies are embracing responsible protection of our oceans.
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A chain's overall rating out of a possible 10 is listed in parenthesis beside its name.
The Best Places to Buy Fish (Overall Rating out of 10)
1. Whole Foods (7.3)
• Boasts the strongest sustainable seafood policy
• Stopped selling two more red list items—ocean quahog and South Atlantic albacore
• Won't sell GMO fish if it becomes available
Areas to improve: Greenpeace wants Whole Foods to support the SAFE Seafood Act in Congress and stand up to protect the Bering Sea Canyons, one of the most fertile fish-producing gems on the planet.
2. Safeway (7.1)
• Private-label canned tuna is governed by stricter sourcing guidelines that eliminate many destructive tactics
• Current policies will not allow any new red list fish to be added to inventory (although some introduced before the policy are still being sold)
• Second only to Harris Teeter in offering transparency and information on where seafood comes from to its customers
Areas to improve: Greenpeace suggests the chain tighten up its standards for farmed shrimp and salmon, end the sale of red list species like Chilean sea bass and Atlantic scallops, and take a tough stand against canned tuna companies that refuse to abandon FADs.
3. Trader Joe's (7)
• In one year, improved from 15th to 3rd place—that's determination!
• Discontinued the sale of six unsustainable species; now selling the fewest red list species (just 4 out of 22)
• Became politically active to protect the Bering Sea Canyons, an important fish-breeding zone
• Won't sell GMO fish if it becomes available
Areas to improve: Greenpeace recommends ending the sale of farmed salmon and dredged scallops, and providing more information about sustainable seafood choices in stores
Use It: The Complete 2013 Seafood Retailer Scorecard
4. Wegmans (6.9)
• Has taken a firm stand to protect the Bering Sea and Ross Sea, important fish habitats
• Offers high level of transparency so customers know where fish come from
• Received the highest rating of all companies for supporting ocean-friendly initiatives
Areas to improve: Greenpeace says Wegmans offers an alarmingly high number of red list species—15—and urges the retailer to stop selling Chilean sea bass.
5. Harris Teeter (6.7)
• Scored the highest in the transparency category, providing information to consumers so they can make more sustainable choices
• A leader in seafood sustainability in the South
• Pledged to refuse any seafood sourced from the Ross Sea, and called for creation of a no-take zone from this important—and threatened—sea zone
Areas to improve: Reduce the number of red list picks, which is currently at 12; consider supporting the protection of the Bering Sea Canyons, too.
The 5 Worst Places to Buy Fish
While some of these seafood-selling companies did show positive change, they all have a long way to go.
1. BI-LO/Winn-Dixie (1.2)
2. Publix (3.2)
3. Kroger (4.4)
Banners include Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith's, King Soopers, Fry's, QFC, City Market, Owen's, Jay C, Pay Less, Baker's, Gerbes, Scott's Food & Pharmacy, Fred Meyer
4. SUPERVALU (4.9)
Banners include Save-a-Lot, Cub, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher's, Shop 'n Save, and Shoppers. The company's former flagship banner, Albertson's, was included during the Greenpeace survey process, but was recently purchased by Cerberus Capital as Albertson's LLC.
5. Giant Eagle (5.2)
Banners include Market District, Get Go, Good Cents
"It's hard to believe that brands like Kroger, Publix & BI-LO are continuing to sell tuna that’s sourced using destructive fishing methods, and sell red list species that are struggling for survival," says Casson Trenor, Greenpeace Senior Markets Campaigner. "This seems so far out of step with consumer preferences, which have encouraged most grocery retailers to offer more sustainable seafood options."
Go the Extra Mile
The best way to forestall these problems is to stop illegal and fraudulent seafood before it ever enters the American market, Greenpeace points out. Tell your federally elected representative and senators to support H.R. 1012/S. 520: The Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act today!
For more information on the best and worst seafood picks, read Seafood You Should (and Shouldn't) Eat.
Published on: May 28, 2013
Updated on: August 13, 2013