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AnimalsEndangered SpeciesFoodPolicies & Politics

Costco Adopts Sustainable Seafood Policy (correction)

{CORRECTION: I was recently contacted by Ryan Jones-Casey of Good Funds Wealth Management (source of the newsletter containing the Costco news) and was informed that, while the content of this blog article is correct, the blog title is not. The procurement changes noted in the post do not constitute an adoption, by Costco, of a an official “sustainable seafood policy”.  My apologies for the inacurracy.}

Following a letter of concern from some of its shareholders, Costco–one of the largest wholesale food distributors in the nation–has formally begun a ‘sea change’ in its seafood procurement policies.

Citing statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a 2006 Science Magazine report on over-fishing, as well as the possibility of facing additional “shareholder value” risks from depleted fish stocks, ecological impacts and regulatory changes, the shareholders urged the company to adopt a more comprehensive and robust sustainability policy.

50% of the seafood consumed by Americans comes from supermarkets and other vendors, accounting for 16 billion in annual sales of fish and other seafood products (shellfish, dried seaweed, fish sauces, etc.). *

The more immediate  concerns expressed by the shareholders were changing the company’s procurement and best practices policies regarding fish stocks deemed to be threatened by the Federal government.

Costco has responded positively to shareholder suggestions in a letter posted on its website last month. Costco has, as of 2009, voluntarily disclosed more information about its seafood suppliers.

According to the August edition of the  Good Funds Wealth Management newsletter, Costco will now cease the sale of seven species of fish currently at risk of collapsing from over-fishing: Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass (see end note), orange roughy, shark, swordfish, and bluefin tuna.

Additionally, Costco has begun working with suppliers of farmed salmon to insure compliance with the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue and will partner with the World Wildlife Fund to monitor Thailand’s compliance with the Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue (for more info on these aquaculture dialogues, visit here).

Socially responsible investing (SRI), including investments in sustainable enterprises and best practices advocacy by shareholders, has been experiencing a surge in interest (and investment dollars) in recent years.

Note: The Chilean sea bass, officially known as The Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), is the target of much illegal catching and a  black market has emerged.

According to wikipedia,

“The Marine Stewardship Council has certified the fishery in South Georgia for sustainable management. South Georgia has the largest toothfish fishery, with a total allowable catch (TAC) of around 3000 tonnes per year, taken by approximately ten vessels.

Illegal catches may be up to five times the legal catch limit. As a direct result, some researchers have predicted a total collapse of the fishery within two to five years. Called the white gold of the Southern Ocean, illegal toothfish catches are unloaded at so-called “pirate ports” in countries such as Namibia and Mauritius. The fish are then sold on the black market, a single  sashimi-grade specimen fetching as much as USD  $1,000.”

* Statistics quoted from the shareholders’ letter to Costco, as linked to from the Good Funds Wealth Management newsletter, August 2010.
photos: NOAA  (yellow fin tuna)/ US Gov. (toothfish); public domain



4 comments
  1. peter h. flournoy

    You, or CostCo need to be more precise than just saying “swordfish” for example. Pacific swordfish is in good shape and should be on the “green” list.

    In fact it is the bluefin from the Atlantic that is having problems. Bluefin in the Pacific is being managed fairly well although there are problems with the take of small bluefin in the western North Pacific.

  2. Andrew

    We need to have a continued skepticism once they put new products on the shelf. There is so much fraud in the fishing industry Costco can easily fall victim to fraud among many other short-comings on providing actual sustainable seafood.

  3. Braddock Spear

    Hopefully, Costco complements their new policy with an education/outreach component. Simply taking fish off the shelves doesn’t inform their customers about the complexities of sustainable seafood. The article notes one major exception (South Georgia Chilean sea bass), but there are many others.

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