Seafood Education: Questions for the Fishmonger

Working as a Hy-Vee fishmonger for more than 20 years, I have received my share of customer questions. I thought I would take a moment to answer a few of the most common questions that we get day in and day out here at the Hy-Vee seafood counter.

  • Q: How much shrimp do I need for my party?
  • A: People will eat as much shrimp as you serve them. You can offer shrimp with almost every other appetizer and people will circle the shrimp like sharks! I suggest purchasing as much shrimp as your budget can afford, and call it good. I also suggest putting the shrimp out in stages, as opposed to putting it all out at once. This will help stretch your shrimp throughout the party as well, as guests will eat other items until the next plate comes out!
  • Q: What type of salmon do I want?
  • A: I think it depends on what types of salmon are available at that particular moment. If fresh, wild salmon is in season, then I tell customers to go wild! If we are outside of fresh salmon season, then I suggest Mt. Cook farm-raised King salmon. Another option is previously frozen Alaskan Sockeye. Of course, we always offer the Verlasso farm-raised salmon in portions and filets all year, and they are incredibly consistent in both flavor and texture.
  • Q: The sign next to the salmon says “color-added.” Is that bad?
  • A: When some people see “color-added” they think that the fish are injected with food coloring. I like to take the time to explain how the salmon actually have color added to them. Wild salmon get their color by eating krill and shrimp. Think about the color of cooked shrimp, and you will understand why salmon is red to orange in color. However, farm-raised salmon don’t get the luxury of dining on shrimp and krill. They get a food pellet that gives them everything a growing salmon needs except for a colorful flesh. The key component in shrimp and krill that gives them the vibrant color is called astaxanthin. This has to be added to the farmed salmon’s food pellets in order to get that orange color. If it was not added to their food, the flesh would be white to gray in color. The astaxanthin is added by either natural ingredients like algae and/or pulverized crustaceans, or by synthetic compounds. Either way, it allows the farm-raised product to closely resemble their wild counterparts.
  • Q: I heard on television or I read that….. (You can fill in the blank)
  • A: Every week we get people asking about a news report saying how bad a particular fish is, how bad fish from a particular country is, or how bad farmed anything is. Here’s my response: Hy-Vee hired its own U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC) lot inspector to ensure the quality, safety and integrity of the fresh seafood it buys. The USDC inspector is stationed onsite at the PDI distribution facility in Ankeny, Iowa, where he routinely checks incoming shipments of fresh seafood, ensuring that it meets Hy-Vee’s standards. Our purchasing and sustainability policy is the strictest around. Our seafood team at PDI is meticulous in its sourcing and accountability of our suppliers. Nothing gets past us. If we get tilapia from China, it has to be good. Just because the news report said all Chinese fish is bad, does not necessarily make it so. Our farm-raised fish and shrimp are raised by the best companies in the world for sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. I say TRUST us. We’ve got this. We worry about these things so you don’t have to.

It’s COOL To Be A Fishmonger

In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began requiring supermarkets to add Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to their packaging and signage for fish and shellfish. The intent of the law was to educate consumers on where their fish came from and whether or not it was wild or farmed. When you go to your fishmonger to buy cod, for example, the sign says “wild-caught, product of U.S.A.” The USDA felt that consumers wanted to know and had a right to know where their fish comes from. The law has since been expanded to certain meats and produce.

So what does this really mean for you when you stop into your Hy-Vee seafood department to get tonight’s dinner? As a consumer of seafood, you face a barrage of information regarding what fish to buy and what fish you shouldn’t buy. You may read a report about how a certain country has poor farming conditions or one that uses slave labor to catch seafood. You may tell yourself to avoid those countries and look for the country of origin on the label. But here is the catch: The law requires the supplier to list the country that the fish was last processed in, not the country where the fish was actually caught or farmed.

Why is this important? For example, most wild salmon is caught in Alaska, but some processors send it to China to be processed because it is cheaper to do that. Therefore they are required to put China as the country of origin even though it was caught in the U.S.A.! So the COOL can be misleading if you are looking for information on where that fish really came from. Companies are now providing more information on the label than ever before to try to clear up the confusion. You may see a label that says “salmon caught in Alaska and processed in China.” Keep in mind that Hy-Vee sells only the best seafood that is raised or caught in a responsible manner. This is the core of our Responsible Choice program and why you can shop for fish worry-free at Hy-Vee.

There are several other facets to the COOL program that are worth mentioning. If seafood is altered in any way by cooking or adding seasoning, then there is no COOL requirement for that product. That’s why you will not see any COOL on battered or encrusted seafood. The other part of the COOL law is the method of production. What if you only want farm-raised or wild fish? The label will tell you how it was caught. The label may also tell you how it was farm raised or caught. For example, was it farm-raised in a closed system or in a net pen in the ocean? Was it caught by longline or in a pot? Those specifics are not required by law, but your fishmonger should have that information if you ask, and you will always find it on my signs in my shop.

When you come into your Hy-Vee fishmonger and read the product signage, you will have a better understanding of the information provided. Keep in mind it is always best to ask the fishmonger about specific concerns you may have. We are always the best source of information on where and how your fish was harvested.

A Fresh Take On Fish

What do you consider “fresh” fish? Is it a fish you caught in the lake and took home and cooked? Is it a fish you purchased at the fish market on the coast? Is it fish you purchased at your local fishmonger? How about frozen fish in your fishmonger’s freezer section?

Maybe you don’t think of frozen fish as “fresh.” But it was caught by fishermen who employ flash-freezing techniques at sea. The fish is caught, then immediately processed and flash-frozen at its peak freshness. It then makes its way to the fishmonger’s freezer for you to take it home, thaw it in the refrigerator and serve it at its peak freshness. Only fish caught that day are considered fresher than frozen fish.

Commercial fisherman go out to sea for days, maybe even weeks. So is that fresh? How about the fresh, not-frozen fish at the seafood counter? That fish comes from the fisherman who then sells his fish to a processor who then packs and ships the fish by truck or air to the fish market. Is this fresh? Technically it is because it has never been frozen. But it could be several days and maybe even a week since it was swimming in the water.

Hy-Vee is too far from a coast to be able to fetch same-day-caught fish. Since we are not close to any ocean, we have to rely on frozen fish to maintain quality. Our fresh fish has to be flown in and is then inspected for quality and freshness. After that, it’s sent to Hy-Vee stores to be bought by you. Hy-Vee has been selling previously frozen fish in the fish case for years.

All of our shrimp, crab and lobster come in frozen and we thaw them for sale. It’s the only way for those items to maintain quality. Wild-caught salmon comes in fresh during the season from May through October. Outside of those months, you are usually going to get previously frozen fish. Farm-raised fish comes in fresh in most cases, but it sometimes comes in previously frozen as well.

In my opinion, frozen fish is often a better choice.

By freezing fish on board the fishing vessels, fishermen lock in the quality at its peak. Plus, it does not require expensive shipping to get the fish to its final destination. It can be trucked to the store rather than flown. That means that your fish will be less expensive than fresh-flown fish.

There are times when customers just want to have that fresh Alaskan King salmon, and you can get it. However, when I traveled to Alaska and caught my own salmon, it was immediately flash frozen in a vacuum-packed sealed bag. When I pulled that fish out six months later and thawed it in the fridge, it still smelled like the sea and was as flavorful as the fish we ate that day we caught it.

Here are some recommendations for your next trip to the Hy-Vee fishmonger:

  1. Read the signs and know what is fresh and what is previously frozen. Not all frozen fish is better than fresh. Ask your Hy-Vee fishmonger for suggestions and information on when to buy frozen fish and when to buy never frozen fish.
  2. Know your seasons for fresh fish. Know when to expect fresh, flown-in fish and when to expect previously frozen fish in the case. Ask the fishmonger when they get deliveries and show up on those days.
  3. Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator. Remove it from the vacuum-sealed package first. Never thaw it on the counter.
  4. Don’t refreeze fish that has been thawed. Cook it and then freeze it if you have to. The quality will diminish substantially if you refreeze raw fish.

Perfect Partners

clearspringsfoodsPartners in sustainability: That’s the best way to describe Hy-Vee and Clear Springs Foods. Hy-Vee has one of the best responsible seafood programs in place, and Clear Springs Foods is one of the leaders in sustainable aquaculture. Clear Springs was started in 1966 and has grown into the leading producer of premium rainbow trout. It is an employee-owned company as is Hy-Vee, making them perfect partners.

Clear Springs maintains total control of its trout from egg to market. The company has its own research facilities, hatcheries, production farms, processing facilities and trucking company to make sure it is the only one to touch your trout before the fish get to market.

More than 70 percent of all rainbow trout raised in the U.S. is grown in a 30-mile stretch along the Snake River in southern Idaho’s Magic Valley. Clear Springs is responsible for about 60 percent of that. Trout are raised in concrete raceways and are fed by an automated feeding system. Why would Clear Springs raise fish here? Because of the water! Magic Valley is home to thousands of natural springs that produce pure, clean oxygenated water at a constant temperature of 58 degrees. All of these factors combine to create ideal conditions for trout.

Clear Springs is also a steward of the environment. It monitors the quality of the water in not only its facility but also the aquifers and river that supply the facility’s water. The company practices good fish welfare and uses bird-friendly netting over its runways. Clear Springs manufactures its own fish meal and is focused on finding plant-based proteins to help negate the need for fish meal.

But what does all this mean for our customers? It means that when you buy Clear Springs trout at your local Hy-Vee you will get great tasting, boneless fish that was raised in a responsible manner. Clear Springs trout is labeled Hy-Vee Responsible Choice and is Green Rated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. You can purchase this mild flaky fish in either a boneless fillet or as a whole fish. Stop by your local Hy-Vee fresh seafood department and purchase some delicious trout from one of our partners in responsible seafood.

Wild about Alaskan Salmon

Alaskan Salmon

World Oceans Day is on June 8, and the theme is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.” The United States does an excellent job at managing its fishery resources, and among the coastal states, Alaska stands tall.

Abundant – that’s the word I would choose to describe Alaskan salmon.

How can such a popular fish be called abundant when so many other fish in the world have been overfished? Alaska has conservation embedded in its state laws and everyone involved understands the importance of protecting its natural resources. Salmon return to Alaska every year to spawn and keep the sustainability of the stocks intact. No one is allowed to fish until enough fish have traveled up the rivers to ensure an equal return of salmon years later. The availability of salmon can vary from year to year. Some years are great and others the returning stocks are small and very little is allowed to be harvested. Lots of factors affect the salmon stocks, and Alaska uses scientific data to determine how much salmon can be harvested. It is a model that I believe all other fisheries should look up to.

Alaska is home to five commercially important species of salmon. King salmon is the largest and least abundant of the group. It is highly prized and will cost you the most at the Hy-Vee fish market, but it is definitely worth it! The thick fillets are perfect for the grill and the high oil content makes it as tasty as it is healthy. Sockeye is the second-most abundant of the salmon, but is also one of the smallest salmons. It has a bright red flesh and is usually one of the more reasonably priced of the Alaskan salmon. Coho is the second-largest of the salmon and has more of an orange flesh. These fillets make great grilling as well and are usually moderately priced. Their season tends to come later in the summer and into the fall. Keta salmon has the firmest flesh of all the Alaskan salmon and is usually much less expensive than the first three salmon. You will find Keta salmon to be very abundant in the freezer section at Hy-Vee. Last, but not least, is the Pink salmon. It is the most abundant of all the salmon and is the least expensive of all of the salmon. You will find a lot of Pink salmon in the canned fish section of Hy-Vee.

Customers ask me what is my favorite. I tell them that they call it King salmon for a reason. It is simply the best. I found this out firsthand last summer. I was very fortunate to take a fishing trip to Alaska with one of Hy-Vee’s suppliers, Trident seafood. Trident is the largest crab, pollock and salmon processor in Alaska. They treated us aboard their vessel the Annandale. I saw firsthand the true abundance of Alaskan salmon. Looking over the side of our fishing boat, it was not uncommon to see massive schools of Coho and Pink salmon rushing by! Catching my first Alaskan King salmon was a dream come true.

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Sport fishing in Alaska is just as regulated as commercial fishing is. We were only allowed one King salmon each day! This helps ensure that neither fishery causes a depletion of the natural resource.

That’s why Hy-Vee has great partnerships in place with the best Alaskan salmon producers to ensure an abundant amount of quality Alaskan salmon all summer long. You don’t have to travel thousands of miles to get excellent, fresh Alaskan salmon, just go down the street to your local Hy-Vee fish market.

Salmon season is in full swing, so take the time to try several of the species and learn which one you like best. But don’t wait too long, as the season is short and the fish are at their peak right now.

Remembering A Trip To The Gulf

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In December of 2012, I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Paul Piazza’s shrimp operation in Louisiana. It was a trip that opened my eyes to the wonders of Gulf shrimp.

Most of what I knew about shrimping in the Gulf, I learned from Forrest Gump. I was about to get a real education on the workings of a real shrimp boat. We had the opportunity to go out on a shrimping vessel and experience a small sample of a day’s work on a shrimp boat. It’s hard enough to just find and catch shrimp, but the work has only just begun after the catch.

The nets full of shrimp are dumped on the deck and the deckhands squat a position much like a baseball catcher for hours, picking and sorting the shrimp into sizes. They are quickly flash frozen right on the boat to preserve freshness and quality.

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When the boat is full, the shrimp are taken to the docks where they are quickly transported to the nearby Paul Piazza processing plants. There they are sized, sorted and packed. They have numerous quality check points throughout the automated process to make sure only the best shrimp make it to Hy-Vee.

I used to think that shrimp for the most part were all the same. I was wrong. I mean really wrong. The Paul Piazza plant owner himself cooked fresh Gulf shrimp for us. I was blown away. The flavor and texture of Gulf shrimp was like nothing I had ever had. The flavor was sweet and delicious. I was hooked.

From that day on, I told my customers that the Gulf shrimp at Hy-Vee was the best shrimp you could ever eat. Paul Piazza knows our standards are the highest in the industry and sends us only the best quality shrimp. We also carry all-natural Gulf shrimp in our service seafood cases – it has no additives or preservatives. Shrimp can spoil very quickly, so most shrimp boats treat their shrimp right away with preservatives. It is actually very rare in the shrimping industry to refrain from adding preservatives to shrimp, because it requires a higher level of care when handling the shrimp.

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Paul Piazza has several dedicated shrimp captains who catch shrimp to our expectations without using chemicals. Why do we go the extra mile to require our shrimp not be treated? For one, the shrimp taste better without the preservatives. Also, some customers can be allergic to the preservatives used on shrimp. So when you choose Gulf shrimp out of the Hy-Vee seafood case, you can be sure it’s pure, natural Gulf shrimp!

Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon

Salmon CanalsOur favorite fish returns in May when the Alaskan season kicks off and eventually ends in September. But there are only so many fish that can be caught – a sustainability model that Alaska has perfected in order to allow us to have the best fish in the world year after year. So what do we do when we can’t get our favorite fresh wild fish? We have to turn to aquaculture to feed our need for salmon. However, not all aquaculture is created equal. There are some folks in New Zealand who are doing things in a different way, and it’s for the better.

Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon is as unique as the country it hails from. Nestled in the shadow of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, is a fish farming operation like no other. With King salmon bloodstock taken from descendants of the California King salmon, it starts with the best salmon available. From there Mt. Cook uses glacier water that is both cold and pristine to fill canals that house the salmon stock. The swift water simulates a river environment and keeps the fish fit and healthy. The operation hand feeds them a diet of fishmeal that is non-GMO and sustainable. It doesn’t rely on antibiotics and chemicals, and it doesn’t overstuff their pens with salmon so they can be kept happy and healthy.

What does that mean for us? It means we get the best alternative to fresh wild salmon without harmful side effects to the environment. And, of course, these fish taste really good.

Mt. Cook lpine SalmonI find the flavor to be a bit milder compared to its wild cousin. You can easily substitute this salmon in any wild salmon recipe you have and you will be delighted. One of the great attributes of King salmon is its size. It’s the biggest salmon available and we get some nice thick fillets from Mt. Cook salmon. It has a really rich oil content, which I think makes it the best salmon to smoke. When smoked, it comes out very moist and tender with a wonderful flavor.

This fish never touches salt water like its fresh counterparts. They spend their whole life cycle in fresh water, and that in itself gives them a unique flavor all their own. Most salmon is raised in pens in the ocean without the fast-moving fresh water that these King salmon enjoy. You can see why they are so unique and so good: the best water, the best food, the best stock, the best care and the best processes available.

I think Mt. Cook salmon in a way is much like Hy-Vee. When you take ownership of your product, you produce the best product. These people care about their fish and it shows in the final product and that’s why they are a great partner for Hy-Vee. If you have never tried it, you really should. Mt. Cook is a salmon that I am proud to sell, and I think you will be more than satisfied and maybe a bit surprised when you take it home!

There’s No Reason to Avoid Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Farm-Raised Fish and Seafood

The reputation of farm-raised fish and seafood is improving to the point that you’re probably eating more farm-raised seafood than you know. Anytime you’re ordering it off the menu, it’s probably farm-raised unless it’s specifically labeled as wild caught.

The problem with farm-raised fish in the past was that it was penned too tightly. One of the problems with that is the same as putting too many people in a pressurized cabin on an airplane. If several people have colds, there’s a good chance many people will catch it. In the oceans, if disease gets to the native fish it can cause a kill.

Large pens of farmed fish also creates waste and uneaten feed that goes to the sea floor, causing negative impacts on crustaceans and other sea life.

But that’s the past. Hy-Vee’s commitment to responsibly choice its seafood by the end of 2015 means our customers won’t have to worry about those practices.

Modern aquaculture practices bear no resemblance to those Old World practices where shrimp was raised in the mud, tilapia in the water and poultry occupied cages resting above the water, creating a not so appetizing circle of life that might have seemed efficient. Today, fish aren’t packed in as tightly in the big enclosed systems used to raise tilapia and trout, and fresh water is filtered and recirculated.

One species where we’ve seen the biggest gains is in tilapia, a fish that has exploded over the last 10 years and is farm-raised all over the world.

We don’t have to go far down the road here in Iowa to see how it’s raised. The Waterfront Drive store in Iowa City, where I work, is one of the few places around that live tilapia can be found. It’s raised by Kingfisher Farms in Long Grove, Iowa, just north of Davenport, in an enclosed tank system. It’s a local, organic operation and you can’t beat it for freshness. Due to the environmentally friendly way that it’s farmed, Kingfisher Farms’ tilapia is a Hy-Vee Responsible Choice.

The system there is very similar. Tilapia are vegetarians, so farmers are able to avoid one of the biggest issues that gives farm-raised fish a bad reputation: in too many farm operations, it takes too many pounds of fish to grow a pound of fish.

One of most exciting developments in aquaculture comes from Chile, where Hy-Vee procures its Responsible Choice Verlasso salmon. Chile is one of the countries where most fish farms still need a lot of work, because fish are packed in too tightly. Verlasso salmon is different.

What Verlasso has done is huge. Not only are fewer fish raised in a pen, the company has developed a feed that has achieved a 1:1.34 ratio in that the fish meal they’ve developed uses slightly over one pound of wild fish to create one pound of salmon. That’s the reason most salmon isn’t Responsible Choice; it uses too much wild fish in the meal.

Verlasso has changed the feed without changing the flavor, which is one of the biggest issues people have had with farm-raised salmon. It still contains those essential Omega-3 fatty acids people want, and it still has the same texture people want.

Salmon is a very popular fish, and wild-caught salmon can only supply about 10 percent of the demand for the salmon, so Responsible Choice options like Verlasso are very important.

Farm-raised mussels are also Responsible Choice. They filter and help clean the water, so they’re actually helping the environment rather than harming it. They grown and multiply quickly and they don’t have to be fed. So we haven’t seen huge changes in those practices, because the fisheries have been doing the right thing for a long time.

We’re watching a shrimp out of Belize very closely. The shrimp industry has been slow to change, but it is beginning to adopt better practices. Hy-Vee has picked up fully traceable shrimp from Belize Aquaculture Ltd., which last year earned a three-star rating from the Global Aquaculture Alliance. It’s the best farm-raised shrimp out there, and we’re glad we can offer it to our customers.

What was That Fish? Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Initiative Means New Varieties are Showing Up in the Seafood Case

As Hy-Vee moves toward its self-imposed deadline to responsibly source all of its fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015, customers will begin seeing some new varieties in the seafood case.

One variety our customers may not be familiar with is sablefish. Fisheries in Alaska have been harvesting this tasty, buttery fish since the 1800s, and new management practices have eliminated some of the problems that nearly depleted sablefish populations in the 1970s.

Before practices changed to trawl-and-pot, the fisheries used longline methods. The whales really love it because it’s very tasty, and they would eat the fish right off the lines, decimating the fisheries’ catch – a whale’s going to do what a whale’s going to do.

You’ll love it, too. Sablefish, which some people know as black cod, is one of best fish out there to eat, but one of the reasons people haven’t heard much about sablefish is that large quantities are shipped overseas to Japan, where there’s a high reverence for it.

Sablefish, like halibut, has a relatively short season, but it’s in season now, so we’ll be able to get it fresh in our stores.

Hy-Vee is also getting a farm-raised salmon that has earned the go-ahead from Monterey Bay and bears our Responsible Choice seal of approval. There are myriad issues related to farm-raised salmon, so it often gets all lumped together. But Verlasso, an Atlantic farm-raised salmon raised in Chile away from development is an exception.

Two big issues with farm-raised salmon are that the fish are grown in high densities, creating a high risk of the transmission of diseases to native salmon populations, and also that the feed contains an unsustainably high amount of wild fish, making it a lose-lose proposition. But Verlasso salmon is penned with 50 percent less fish, and the fish meal has been replaced with a meal that is rich in Omega-3, but has 75 percent less fish in the meal. They’re switching out the protein, but the fish still has the same texture and is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. And there’s no net loss to the environment.

Verlasso salmon should be available in our stores by April 1.

We’ve also added Idaho Rainbow Trout from Clear Springs Foods, which I’ve previously blogged about. Clear Springs is the only trout supplier we’re featuring now. We had some others that weren’t as environmentally friendly, so this is a big change that comes with Hy-Vee’s commitment to responsibly source our seafood.

Currently, there is no farm-raised shrimp that meet Responsible Choice standards, but because shrimp is such a popular item, we’re eager to provide one for our customers. We’re getting in a cooked shrimp from Belize that is farmed in a closed system that pumps in fresh water, and the shrimp aren’t packed in as densely as at some other farms. It hasn’t hit the rating system yet.

It’s hard to read the crystal ball to determine when Monterey Bay will evaluate a species, but one thing customers can feel confident about is that, overall, we’re getting better items, even if we can’t immediately label them as Responsible Choice. The fisheries know the bar has been raised.

We’re also getting in Responsible Choice swai, which is like catfish, coming out of Vietnam. Protectionist legislation by U.S. catfish farmers means this mild white fish must be marketed under another name, so you may have seen it marketed as basa, though that’s an entirely different fish, or even under the shortened version of its scientific name, Pangasius hypophthalmus.

Another best choice-rated fish is Arctic Char, a cross between salmon and trout. It’s very tasty and has many of the characteristics of both species. It’s farm-raised in the deep, cold waters of glacial lakes, and you’ll occasionally find that in our case.

We’ve also switched to a Responsible Choice mahi mahi, a very good fish for grilling. That’s Yellow rated, as is the grouper, flounder and sole we will be getting in.

We expect to see many more new items coming in that may introduce our customers to fish they’ve never had before. It’s a process. The warehouse can’t just turn on a dime, because they have to get the assurances and checks and balances in place to make sure the fish is what the suppliers say it is.

This shows that we’re following the Responsible Choice initiative letter by letter. We’re not taking shortcuts or just assuming it’s right. Hy-Vee’s commitment is more than just words.

Hy-Vee’s Seafood Cases are Brimming with Responsible Choice Options from Around the World

Seafood Case

The seafood cases at Hy-Vee stores are brimming with sustainable seafood options, branded Responsible Choice to demonstrate our commitment to healthy choices for your family, the environment, and the world’s oceans and the various species they support.

One of the best choices is Idaho rainbow trout from Clear Springs Foods. They are definitely the leaders in the industry for Responsible Choice trout, and Clear Springs is the only trout supplier we’re featuring now. We had some others that weren’t as environmentally friendly, so this is a big change that comes with Hy-Vee’s commitment to responsibly source all of its fresh and store brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015.

Clear Springs Foods made the grade because the fish are farm-raised in a closed system of concrete raceways fed by pristine natural spring waters. The same company provides ready-to-bake options, such as Parmesan-crusted Idaho rainbow trout.

Customers can also feel confident about Pacific cod, which is probably the most recognized fish in the world. People like this white fish because of its mild flavor and low fat content. Back in the day, sea merchants traded cod for supplies, and Atlantic stocks have collapsed as a result. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has rated some Atlantic cod fisheries as a Red ‘Avoid’ because of the long history of overfishing.

Pacific cod, on the other hand, has been very well managed, so the stocks are good. Our cod comes from Alaska, where limits have been imposed on what can be caught and how much can be caught.

Previously frozen, this Pacific cod coming out of Alaskan waters lives close to the sea floor and is caught in pots – not by bottom trawls – and bycatch is mostly eliminated. If other species are caught, they remain alive and they can be thrown back into the water. With longlines, which aren’t included in the sustainable practices we require at Hy-Vee, the fish can be dead when it’s pulled into the boat.

Halibut is another popular responsibly sourced Pacific fish. Its availability is limited, though, because limits were put in place because conservationists have noticed there haven’t been as many juveniles. We’ll see more fresh supplies in early March – great timing, as this is a good grilling fish.

A good starter fish for people who want to introduce more seafood into their diets is tilapia, which Hy-Vee brings in fresh from Ecuador. It’s a clean, white fish that takes on the flavor of whatever you put with it. If you want a non-fishy-tasting fish, tilapia is the way to go. Tilapia are vegetarians, so farmers don’t have to use fish meal or other fish, making it very environmentally friendly. It’s also a good value fish.

Very close to tilapia in taste is swai or basa, a less common name for this river fish from Vietnam. It’s a type of catfish.

Another very popular Responsible Choice in the Midwest is channel catfish, a river fish that many of us grew up with and know well. Hy-Vee’s catfish is domestic and farm-raised in ponds, mostly in Mississippi. We offer it in three forms: as fillets (the most expensive option), whole fish (about $3 less per pound than fillets) and as catfish nuggets (the most affordable variety).

Also popular are ahi tuna and swordfish, which are pole caught in Indonesia without using other fish as bait. Each shipment comes with a letter certifying that it was caught using this sustainable practice. Both are great grilling-weather fish.

Our Responsible Choice initiative has changed what’s available in the seafood case, and in some cases introduced people to some new fish. Our customers are overwhelmingly supportive of this and think Hy-Vee is doing the right thing.