The Beacon

Whole Foods Adopts Seafood Rating System

© Oceana/Emily Fisher

As you’ve probably heard, Whole Foods Market announced last week that it is partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program and Blue Ocean Institute to label all the wild-caught seafood in its North American stores according to their sustainability criteria.

A green label means the fish is relatively abundant and the fishing method causes little damage, yellow indicates that some problems exist with abundance or fishing method, and red means the fish is overfished or the fishing method seriously harms other wildlife or natural habitats. The company has also pledged to eliminate all red-list seafood by Earth Day 2013.

I wanted to see this new rating system for myself, so I headed to the nearest Whole Foods store around lunchtime yesterday. In addition to having a mercury warning clearly posted, the seafood counter’s new stoplight-color rating system appeared prominent and easy to understand.

I wandered past pale cod filets that bore the red seal of disapproval, clams marked yellow and shiny whole vermilion snappers that boasted a green seal.

The fishmonger behind the counter said the new system was causing customers to ask more questions, but he couldn’t speculate yet on whether people were buying less of the “red” fish now that it was labeled as such.

A woman eyeing the wild-caught Coho salmon on sale asked, “Where was this caught?” “Alaska,” he replied. Satisfied, she selected her filet and he plopped it on the scale. I asked her whether she found the new system helpful. She said yes, and that she had recently avoided buying a fish because of its low sustainability rating.

I was considering picking up some of the Coho myself, but a long line had formed at the seafood counter while I was chatting. Hopefully some of the other customers also eyed the ratings before making their purchases.

Have you seen the new ratings system at Whole Foods? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

Download a pocket seafood guide for your region, and learn more about the problems with seafood traceability in the U.S. in the latest issue of the Oceana magazine.


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