Carting Away Our Oceans - The Greenpeace Report and What We Can Do

I used to have a boyfriend that was a kind of chronic f*^#-up. When he was revealed yet again to have veered off the good boyfriend path, he would say with all the charm and sincerity he could muster, “Just think of the massive potential for growth I have!”

This came to mind looking at the Greenpeace report on our supermarkets and sustainable seafood. Entitled “Carting Away Our Oceans” it reveals stunning under-achievement on the part of even our supposed ‘green’ leaders. Think of the massive potential for growth. Indeed.

?When the folks at Whole Foods made a fuss about eliminating lobster tanks, they joined the ranks of greenwashers. The portmanteau combines “whitewashing” with the “green” label that is so popular with consumers to connote those companies that try to sell us more stuff under the guise of being green. In a smooth bait and switch, the chest-thumping over the lobster tank stand was designed to distract from their failure to eliminate endangered species from the fish counters.

The subtitle of the report is “How Grocery Stores are Emptying our Oceans” but really it might well have read “How Consumer Choices are ...” Because, let’s face it folks, if we weren’t buying it, they wouldn’t sell it. Simple as that.

Here are some excerpts from the Greenpeace report which I urge you to review in full. It’s a triple-hyphen read: well laid-out, well-researched and eye-opening.

  • Supermarkets feed the growing appetite for seafood in the U.S. and ring up approximately $16 billion each year in seafood sales.
  • The supermarket sector is rapidly adapting to changing consumer preferences for sustainable, organic and natural products. The price of food is no longer the overriding factor for many customers. With a choice of at least two competing stores in most areas, the store that can supply the “sustainable choice” gets a greater proportion of market share.
  • Nearly nine in 10 Americans say the term “conscious consumer” describes them well, and they are more likely to buy from companies that commit to environmentally friendly practices (87 percent) if products are of equal quality and price.
  • The results of this research clearly show that most U.S. supermarkets continue to purchase seafood with little consideration for the health of the species they sell. There is even less concern for where or how it was caught or farmed, or for the negative effects on the wider marine environment.

If you look at the scorecard you may think that Greenpeace ignored your supermarket altogether. Not so, it turns out that many of the markets we know as Food Lion or Albertson’s, Bristol Farms or Shaw’s, operate under larger corporate entities. Here are a few I picked out to highlight.

  • Whole Foods still sells 16 of 22 Red List species: Alaskan pollock, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sea scallops, Chilean sea bass, Greenland halibut, grouper, hoki, monk?sh, ocean quahog, red snapper, red?sh, South Atlantic albacore tuna, sword?sh, tropical shrimp, and yellow?n tuna.
  • Ahold - Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin’s Food Market - Ahold is in the process of implementing a 10-point Sustainable Seafood Policy,
  • Costco - No sustainable seafood policy.
  • A&P - No policy and offered the insulting (to consumers and to me) statement that it “does not withhold product choices based solely on political or social opinions.” Despite the data, they are willing to ignore their own consumers’ preferences and thumb their noses at conservation.
  • Supervalu - Albertson’s, Bristol Farms, Shaw’s, Star Market -  2,500 stores nationwide from super luxe gourmet to bulk discounters. This chain stands to make a big difference if only it would adopt some basic policies to address sustainability issues. No sustainable seafood sourcing policy. Sells 18 of 22 red list species.
  • Trader Joe’s - selling many natural, organic products side by side with some of the most endangered, over-fished and destructively harvested species in the world.

The report ends with this: "In the last 50 years, 90% of top ?sh stock predators have been lost. Experts predict if current trends continue global ?sheries could collapse in the next 50 years. Act now to stem the tide and set a new course for healthy oceans and sustainable seafood."

What you can do:

Greenpeace offers a list of green grocers that are truly green, here.

Our friend Lia Huber devised a Five Step Action Plan and shared it with us during Teach a Man to Fish, garnering the first annual "Flying Fish" Award for going above and beyond. 

Five Steps to Better Fish:

Step 1) I’ll ask to speak with whomever is in charge of purchasing and ask whether the store has a policy on purchasing sustainable seafood, pointing out—gently, politely—that I’ve noticed that some of the fish they have on offer are harmful choices for our oceans.

Step 2) I’m going to pull out my Seafood Watch Pocket Guide and discuss a couple of the fish they’re selling that fall under the red column (like the Ss-1ones I mentioned above).  

Step 3) Since I don’t want to just point out negatives, I’ll come equipped with Seafood Watch’s chart of alternative recommendations so I can make some suggestions on sustainable substitutions.

Step 4) If all goes well with steps one through three, I’ll ask if I can bring in some more Pocket Guides to keep on the counter for customers to take. I’ll also ask if they’d like me to bring by some more information for their staff, and give them info on where to go for training support, presentations and materials.

Step 5) Finally, I’ll ask for their support and commitment, including a timeline for follow-up.