Costco Stops Selling 12 Imperiled Fish Under Pressure From Greenpeace

costco stops selling fish greenpeaceCostco says it has stopped selling about a dozen imperiled fish in a move toward selling consumers more sustainable seafood. Greenpeace, which pressured the retailer, declares this a victory for oceans, but says Costco could go further.

The warehouse giant based in Issaquah, Wash., has agreed to not sell the following seafood unless the company can find options that are certified by Marine Stewardship Council or some similar program:
  • Atlantic cod
  • Atlantic halibut
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Greenland halibut
  • Grouper
  • Monkfish
  • Orange roughy
  • Redfish
  • Shark
  • Skates and rays
  • Swordfish
  • Bluefin tuna

That pledge "certainly is not perfect," according to a Greenpeace announcement, apparently alluding to the possibility that some fish will return as MSC-certified, which is controversial in some circles as being too lax. "We'd like to see these unsustainable options off the shelves until the populations recover -- but it's a major step forward."

Costco senior vice president of seafood Jeff Lyons told Consumer Ally that his company has quietly been working on this effort on its own but only recently made it public in response to Greenpeace's targeted campaign against Costco. "We nine months ago announced seven items we'd delete from the marketplace. About a month ago, we added another five to the list," Lyons said. "The idea is to try to make it a little more public what we're doing."

He agrees with critics that "all of us need to be concerned about sustainability" of fish.

Costco also pledges to play more of a leadership role within aquaculture (that is, the farm-raised seafood industry, which in some cases can be detrimental to wild fish, as found with wild salmon versus farm-raised salmon). Also according to Greenpeace, Costco pledges to partner with World Wildlife Fund to examine its stores' remaining wild-caught seafood choices to gauge how to transition to the most sustainable alternatives. Lyons said he was in Thailand last week with three other staff members of Costco and a WWF representative to inspect shrimp farms, which are being measured for their sustainability. "Those are things we're working on that no one knows about," Lyon said.

Costco also is in the process of shifting to more sustainable sources of all kinds of tuna, including canned, according to Greenpeace. As Consumer Ally noted previously, the well-regarded Monterey Bay Aquarium urges consumers to avoid buying "dolphin-safe" tuna sold by household-name brands because of the many sea turtles, sharks, juvenile tuna and other fish killed in the process. (Try canned salmon instead. Or look for sustainably caught, pricier canned tuna such as the few choices mentioned in our story here.)

"Any time a major buyer makes a commitment to more sustainable seafood practices, that is tremendous," Ken Peterson, spokesman for Monterey Bay Aquarium, told Consumer Ally in the wake of the Costco announcement. It continues to move market demand in a direction that will encourage sustainable fishing, he says. "That's one of the most important things to happen if we want to have healthy oceans," he notes, but adds he doesn't yet know enough about the details of Costco's commitment to make a definitive judgment.

Blue Frontier Campaign president David Helvarg is guarded in his outlook.

"Major seafood buyers like Walmart and Costco are now catching up with smaller distributors and chefs in realizing there won't always be another (wild) fish in the sea -- and that's good," Helvarg told Consumer Ally. "But what we need is to recognize that we're in a major global food transition from wild fishing to aquaculture. We need to protect small shore-based community fishing, establish large no-take protected areas in the sea to save and restore what marine wildlife is left and create rules to assure that the world aquaculture industry becomes much more clean and sustainable."

Following consumer pocket guides that point out best and worst seafood choices is "no longer enough."

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