The devastation wrought by global industrialized fishing continues on a massive scale, and in spite of overwhelming evidence and strong warnings from the scientific community, we continue to plunder our seas. Populations of the ocean’s apex predators – sharks, tuna, swordfish, and similar animals – have dropped by as much as 90 percent. Bycatch remains a scandalous problem: each day, an enormous portion of the world’s total seafood catch is tossed over the sides of fishing boats due to inefficient, indiscriminate fishing methods. The worst of the destructive fishing practices, bottom trawling, is responsible for 80 percent of all bycatch incurred globally.
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Through varying combinations of progressive policy development, public support for conservation measures, and the elimination of unsustainable seafood inventory items, two companies – Safeway and Whole Foods – have transformed themselves into undeniable leaders within the industry. Although the two retailers are extremely different in business model, consumer demographic, and size, they have each found ways to excel in their promotion and adoption of sustainable seafood. Certainly they still have a great deal of work to do – sustainability is, after all, a moving target, as it is inextricably linked to the dynamics of our oceanic ecosystems and to the vagaries of our changing climate – but Greenpeace celebrates the achievements of these companies and eagerly awaits similar outcomes from other retailers that are poised to embrace sustainability to a greater degree.
While it makes sense to acknowledge those companies that are leading the pack, it’s also important to recognize the progress made by retailers that, while not quite at the forefront of the industry, have made powerful strides. Companies like Harris Teeter, Aldi, and Delhaize have made substantial improvement over the past year and are tackling the difficult issues thwart many companies less determined to achieve greater sustainability within their seafood operations.
It is clear that certain markets have become deeply invested in making better decisions and providing safer, more sustainable seafood options for their customers. At the same time, an opposite, dismal truth has become impossible to ignore: there are still a few seafood retailers out there that even now have yet to take any responsibility for the seafood they sell, or for the damage they are doing to our oceans.