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Policies & Politics

Costco Expands Sustainable Seafood Policy – Sales of 12 'Red-List' Fish Will Cease

Last August, Planetsave reported on voluntary changes made by maga-wholesaler Costco to its seafood procurement practices. Most notably, in response to a letter from concerned share-holders, Costco ceased the sale of seven types of fish currently at risk of collapsing from over-fishing (the Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, and bluefin tuna).

Costco also pledged to begin compliance with two separate Aquaculture Dialogues (for salmon and shrimp) and to partner with the World Wildlife Fund to monitor compliance with these Dialogues by other countries (such as Thailand).

Fish in the Faroe Islands: Orange roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus, Faroese stamp issued: 7 Feb 1994 Artist: Astrid Andreasen

While most applauded the move, many also complained that the changes did not go far enough. Costco still sold other species that were on the IUCN’s red list; their changes stopped short of a comprehensive, sustainable seafood policy.

But now, in what is being hailed as a victory for the world’s oceans (and thanks in part to a national campaign by Greenpeace), Costco has expanded its list of no-sell fish to 12 red-listed categories/species. The five add-ons are: monkfish, redfish, Greenland halibut, grouper, and all rays and skates.  The board of directors at Costco announced these additional fish in a recent, 3-page policy statement, which also clarifies the no-sell policy. To wit:  “We will not resume sales unless our sources are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).” The company will also disclose the identity of any certifying organization.

NOAA agent counting confiscated shark fins. Shark fishing in particular has seen a six-fold increase since 1950, and many sharks are simply "finned" (their dorsal fins are cut off) and then are thrown back into the water.

And, in continuation of changes it began last summer, Costco will improve its aquaculture best practices (“advancing industry performance through monitoring, control and surveillance” {MCS}) as it continues its commitment to farmed salmon and other fish.

Costco will also take on a global leadership role in developing a sustainable tuna industry. In this regard, Costco seeks to conform its fresh and frozen tuna procurement practices to guidelines set forth by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), a private advocacy entity, whose mission is “to undertake science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch [unintended fish catches] and promoting ecosystem health.”

Quoting again from the company’s policy statement:  “Moving forward, we expect to carefully examine whether there are other species that we should cease to sell because of a consensus around documented concerns that the species are at great risk.  Presently we are working with WWF to identify sustainable fisheries for certain species that have been identified as at risk in certain respects.  Those efforts may lead to us to cease sales of additional species.”

This policy progress on behalf of Costco’s corporate leadership comes as very welcome news to the hundreds of thousands of seafood consumers who voiced their concern to Costco. Although it is not an  “official”, full sustainability policy change, it is significant progress, and we hope that this decision to adopt a more comprehensive, compliant, and sustainable seafood policy will serve as a market-force role model to other large, seafood suppliers and vendors.

To learn more about Costco’s tuna and tilapia procurement practices, read the February 2011 policy statement: Seafood & Sustainability.

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

Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a 2006 Science Magazine report on over-fishing.


Moving
forward, we expect to carefully examine whether there are other
species that we should cease to sell because of a consensus around
documented concerns that the species are at great risk.  Presently
we are working with WWF (see below) to identify sustainable
fisheries for certain species that have been identified as at risk in
certain respects.  Those efforts may lead to us to cease sales of
additional species.



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