- Guides that offer insight and recommendations into sustainable seafood options tend to be confusing and often conflict with one another, according to NPR. Atlantic cod, for instance, has three different recommendations from three different guides.
- Experts say the differences often come down to the individual group’s focus. The Environmental Defense Fund, for instance, tends to approve species whose overall health and stocks are “improving,” while the Monterrey Bay Aquarium focuses more on the current health of fish and fish stocks.
- Seafood experts as well as representatives from guide organizations recommend talking with retailers to learn more about their seafood sourcing standards.
The NPR story opens with the writer describing a recent encounter with a seafood department employee. When she asks what kind of shrimp he’s selling, the employee begins with, “I don’t know.” When asked how the cod was caught, he tells her, “I’m not sure. With nets, I think. Not with harpoons.”
This level of service just won’t cut it at a time when shoppers are more concerned than ever about the sustainability of their seafood.
According to a recent survey by Globalscan on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council, seafood consumers rate sustainability above price and brand when selecting fish, shrimp, lobster and other choices. Clearly, shoppers are aware of problems with overfishing and destructive fishing practices in today’s aquaculture.
Handy guides from a variety of organizations offer to people towards more sustainable choices. But as the NPR piece points out, the conflicting standards and recommendations these guides offer can end up causing more confusion than clarification. Atlantic cod, for instance, is rated as an “improving” species by the Environmental Defense Fund, while the Monterrey Bay Aquarium only rates farmed cod as a “best choice.” The Safina Center, meanwhile, divides Atlantic cod into three different groups and recommends cod caught with handlines as the best option.
This is an opportunity for supermarkets to step in and offer guidance. As the point of sale for most seafood purchases, they’re in an even better position than many organizations to capture consumers’ attention. Many retailers have committed to offering sustainable seafood, but too often they fail to break down what that actually means. Signage and brochures at the case level can be helpful, as can rigorous employee training. Some grocers, like Whole Foods, offer color-coded ratings for seafood, while others, like Hy-Vee, prioritize choices ranked highly by organizations that they value.
In the end, it’s all about offering simple yet effective customer education, and never having to tell a consumer “I don’t know.”