FRESH SEAFOOD TRENDS:<br />Sustainable Seafood in Supermarkets is Catching on

First, the good news: More than half of the nation’s leading supermarkets are making progress with increased sustainability in their seafood operations, according to results of Greenpeace’s latest seafood sustainability scorecard, “Carting Away the Oceans.” The bad news: Two days following the release of its third sustainable seafood supermarket scorecard, the environmental advocacy group began piling it on Trader Joe’s with protests and an inflammatory Web site triggered by the Monrovia, Calif.-based chain’s apparent disregard of the group’s demands to negotiate seafood sourcing and purchasing practices.

Ranking 17th out of the 20 stores evaluated by Greenpeace -- the worst ranking of any national food chain --Trader Joe’s became the target last week of a Greenpeace-launched Internet spoof (, and the organization then dispatched activists to picket the company’s stores in the San Francisco area as a protest against the grocer’s alleged lack of sustainable seafood policies and purchasing practices.

Dressed in Hawaiian shirts similar to those worn by Trader Joe’s employees, Greenpeace activists were accompanied by two oversized “orange roughies,” one of the 22 species on the endangered list by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Activists also erected a voting booth and asked customers to “vote for sustainable seafood” before Greenpeace presented Trader Joe’s with a mock citation.

According to Greenpeace spokesman Casson Trenor: “Seafood sustainability is now on the radar of many major retailers, so we are seeing a shift in practices, but much more progress is needed. Unfortunately, our oceans are in crisis, and Trader Joe’s not only lacks a sustainable seafood policy, it has [also] taken no initiative in this area and continues to sell 15 of the 22 ‘red list’ species in our report,” which, in addition to orange roughy, includes Alaskan pollock, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sea scallops, Chilean sea bass, Greenland halibut, monkfish, ocean quahog, red snapper, redfish, South Atlantic albacore tuna, swordfish, tropical shrimp and yellowfin tuna.

As one who has long admired Trader Joe’s fantastic frozen fish program, I happen to think the notoriously media-shy chain is missing the boat by ignoring Greenpeace’s smear campaign in favor of explaining its purchasing model that takes advantage of seasonal buying opportunities when sourcing wild products at peak season, when abundance and seasonality fluctuate.

Devoid of commentary from the chain, I will divert to a well-written editorial by John Sackton on, which cites correspondence dated March 11, 2008 (which Greenpeace says is the most recent and only time Trader Joe’s management deigned to discuss the issue of seafood sustainability with Greenpeace), from Trader Joe’s SVP of marketing, Jon Basalone, who wrote: “We simply listen to our customers,” in explanation of the retailer’s refusal to participate in Greenpeace’s survey of American retailers.

Greenpeace fired back, saying that Basalone’s comments were “antithetical to the basic tenets of corporate social responsibility - to take social, environmental and political concerns into account when doing business -- and [run] counter to consumer preference and marketing trends toward sustainable products,” noted Sackton.

“In other words, unless Trader Joe’s buys into the social, environmental and political concerns of Greenpeace USA, the company is an outlaw…The problem for Greenpeace is not that Trader Joe’s might in fact be making a strong statement about corporate responsibility, but that they are not doing it according to Greenpeace’s rules,” he continued.

“The most destructive purchasing practices for seafood are when companies seek to have certain items at any price -- for in this way buyers distort the market and drive demand for illegal fishing, assuming that they must have a product to please their customers, even if it is in short supply and at a high price. This has led to abuses for illegal supplies finding a ready market.

“More flexible policies, such as providing the customer with a variety of available frozen fish that changes depending on what is in season, what is packed and how it is priced, is a much more long-term sustainable policy than purchasing from a fixed list of items no matter if these items are red or green.

“Trader Joe’s should take Greenpeace’s anger as a badge of honor,” concluded Sackton. “It is obvious that seafood is an important part of their vision of customer satisfaction, and that is a long-term benefit to the entire seafood industry.”

Parting Thought: Wegmans received top billing in Greenpeace’s supermarket seafood sustainability countdown, followed by Ahold USA; Whole Foods (3), Target (4), Safeway (5), Harris Teeter (6), Walmart (7), Delhaize (8), Kroger (9) and Costco (10).
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