The health of ocean ecology is critical to all other life on earth, but since we generally cannot see changes underwater, our oceans are often abused and mistaken for endless resources. Fish are a major ocean resource and when practiced responsibly, fishing can be sustainable. However, overfishing is harmful to the health of the oceans and it often involves significant bycatch levels. When purchasing fish, it is important to know what you’re buying, if its over-fished, and how it was caught so that you can make environmentally conscious choices. Fortunately, major grocery retailers like Safeway are putting forth efforts to provide sustainable seafood.
Recently, Safeway Inc. announced that Safeway brand canned tuna, skipjack, will be responsibly harvested using free-school *purse-seine methods as a contribution toward the company’s sustainable seafood sourcing and in an effort to meet consumer demand for ec0-friendly products. Phil Gibson, Safewayâ€™s group director of seafood, explained that sourcing responsibly fished tuna is critical to marine ecosystem health. A transition to responsible practices is set to be implemented by 2013. Current methods, which rely on fish aggregating devices (FADs), will be eliminated.
Safeway is also creating new specifications for responsibly sourced albacore tuna caught on longline vessels with improved techniques. Safeway brand “responsibly caught tuna” is the first US brand to make the move.
Casson Trenor, Senior Markets Campaigner for Greenpeace and author of Sustainable Sushi, said, “Safeway’s canned skipjack tuna specifications are progressive, comprehensive, and visionary. They address the dangers of fish-aggregating devices. Greenpeace applauds Safeway for stepping up to the plate and making this powerful and public commitment and looks forward to the company’s forthcoming albacore tuna policy.”
Safeway’s motivation for change are inspired by concerns regarding the over-harvesting of fish and the frequency of deadly accidental captures such as sea turtles, sharks, and pelagic fish. Bycatch levels are greatly reduced when FADs are not used, but tuna is sourced without the use of FADs requires new protocols and partnerships with stakeholders in ocean ecology. Safeway will research how to provide economically viable, bio-regionally supported pole and line sourced tuna and has announced its commitment to working with a number of influential governing bodies and scientists in order to ensure responsible business practices and supply-chain transparency.
Hopefully other grocery retailers are not far behind!
*A purse-seine is a fishing net that hang vertically in the water with the bottom edge weighted and the top edge buoyed. A line is laced through rings at the bottom edge of the net so that when pulled, the net gathers at the bottom and prevents fish from escaping. Schools are located with radar and donor and fisherman use birds to determine where more may be swimming.
Image by Paul Keller on Flickr Courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing