What’s the Catch with Farm-Raised Seafood: Responsible Choice Farmed Seafood is Addressing Some of the Major Issues Affecting Sustainability

When we look at the sustainability of farm raised seafood at FishWise – Hy-Vee’s adviser in its Responsible Choice initiative to responsibly source its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015 – we assess five main criteria: data; pollution, habitat impacts, and chemical use; feed; escapes and disease transfer; and the source of the eggs/larvae.

Here’s a closer look at each:

    1. Data – the quality and relevance of available data:
      • Data poor operations are not sustainable. In some places where species are farmed, we don’t have data on the effluent, stocking density, and other sorts of parameters that can affect wild stocks and the health of the ocean.
    2. Pollution, habitat impacts, and chemical use – handling farm wastes to prevent pollution, minimizing damage to surrounding habitats during farm construction, and minimizing the use of chemicals:
      • Pollution from farms comes from discharging wastewater into the surrounding environment. If a farm treats or recirculates its water, the risks of polluting the environment is much lower than for farms that flush their ponds/cages regularly without filtering or treating it.
      • For habitat impacts, we consider what kind of habitat, if any, is damaged during farm construction. For example, farms that are built in ecologically valuable mangrove forests are not considered sustainable.
      • Some farms use chemicals to disinfect ponds, treat the water, prevent or control disease outbreaks, and a variety of other reasons. Farms that use a lot of chemicals can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment and can contribute to diseases becoming resistant. In some very egregious cases, we’ve found farms that use the same antibiotics that would be prescribed for a human ailment, diminishing the efficacy of those antibiotics for their intended purpose.
    3. Feed – Consumption of resources, such as wild fish and other proteins, in feeds for the production of farmed fish:
      • How much wild fish is being used in the feed for farmed fish depends on the species being grown.
      • Carnivorous species like salmon require a high amount of wild fish, while vegetarian fish like catfish and tilapia require little to no wild fish in the feed. Most sustainable of all species in this area are filter feeders like oysters and mussels, which do not require any feed.
      • A species like farmed salmon can take up to three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of salmon. Ideally, we want a one-to-one ratio or better.
      • The industry has strongly responded to concerns related to fish feed and we’ve seen a lot of improvement in this area.
    4. Escapes and disease transfer – risk of fish escaping from farms and risk of diseases from farmed fish spreading to wild stocks, negatively impacting wild ecosystems:
      • If farmed fish that escape into the wild thrive and become established in an area in which they had not lived prior to the farm, they become known as invasive species. Invasive species can have negative effects on native species by outcompeting them for resources (food, habitat, etc.).
      • Some invasive species can also interbreed with wild populations, reducing the biodiversity of the wild population and making the population more susceptible to diseases and other changes.
      • We’ve seen aquaculture operations responding to this concern with mitigation measures, such as covering pens with nets that prevent fish from escaping over the top of the pen during storm.
    5. Source of eggs/larvae – independence of eggs/larvae (seedstock) from wild fish stocks:
      • Some farming operations remove the eggs/larvae/juveniles from the wild population to grow, reducing the health of the wild stock.
      • For example, Bluefin tuna farmed in the Mediterranean Sea are actually raised from juveniles that are caught in the wild in a practice that is often called “ranching.” This depletes the wild stock since those fish will not have a chance to reproduce in the wild.

The most sustainable type of aquaculture is done in land-based, closed-containment systems that recirculate and clean the water. At FishWise, we’re all about closed-containment aquaculture systems, and the technology is improving to make these systems more affordable.

At Hy-Vee, Every Day is World Oceans Day

Hy-Vee may be headquartered in Iowa, a landlocked state in the middle of the country without an ocean in sight, but the company’s strong Seafood Procurement Policy and its commitment to responsibly source all of its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee brand seafood by the end of 2015 reflect a growing global concern about the health of the world’s seas.

On Sunday, June 8, like-minded individuals, businesses and organizations paused to observe World Oceans Day, an idea first proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, adopted by The Ocean Project in 2002 and formally adopted by the United Nations in 2008.

The theme of the 2014 observance, “Together we have the power to protect the ocean,” is in keeping with Hy-Vee’s commitment to help resolve the issues that affect the health of the ocean, including overfishing and habitat destruction.

Hy-Vee’s proactive Seafood Procurement Policy recognizes that certain types of seafood species are in danger or nearing endangerment status, and are harvested using methods that place unnecessary stress on the environment and other marine life.

In general, the company will do business only with suppliers who harvest or raise seafood in a manner that provide for long-term sustainability of the species while minimizing damage to the environment and other sea life. That means Hy-Vee will only do business with the better-performing seafood suppliers whose catch methods are consistent with the company’s commitment to prevent overfishing and damage to marine habitat.

Seafood is the largest food commodity traded globally, which connects us to the world ocean in other ways. That’s part of the reason Hy-Vee is working proactively behind the scenes on such environmental initiatives such as the Ross Sea Pledge and another to limit fishing in the Bering Sea’s Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons.

During the global World Oceans Day celebration, hundreds of events were held around the globe to help individuals become part of the solution to the problems facing the ocean. Hy-Vee is demonstrating that every day.

How Deep is our Commitment to Responsibly Sourced Seafood? The Answer is Found on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna

If you want to know how deep Hy-Vee’s commitment runs in its Responsible Choice seafood initiative, take a closer look at the fine print on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna.

You’ll find guarantees there that you won’t find with major-label brands. Much of the canned tuna available on the market today is caught using industrial scale purse seines and longlines, which result in high levels of bycatch of non-target species, such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and other marine life.

That was a big concern for Hy-Vee, so we looked to FishWise to help us develop two private label lines that are making a huge difference.

Our new pole-and-line skipjack tuna and pole-and-troll albacore tuna are among the most progressive canned tuna offerings of any major retailer. The pole-and-line skipjack tuna, called ‘chunk light’ on the can, is especially impressive, given that the Monterey Bay Aquarium says it is the most sustainable option for any canned tuna.

The pole-and-troll albacore, called ‘solid or chunk white’ on the can, is sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries in the United States and New Zealand, and pole and troll are the two most selective albacore fishing methods, resulting in very little bycatch of non-target species.

This is a huge step forward in our sustainability program and our commitment to responsibly source all of our fresh and private label seafood by the end of 2015. For any retailer to do this is impressive, but it’s more so because Hy-Vee was able to pull this off in less than a year. It’s a matter of having the right suppliers, the right communication and a strong commitment to doing the right thing.

Also noteworthy: Hy-Vee’s private label products allow consumers to stretch their food dollars without sacrificing nutrition, taste or quality.

Hy-Vee Nets Prestigious National Recognition for Environmentally Responsible Seafood Ffforts

We did it! In the Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets report released last week by Greenpeace USA, Hy-Vee’s seafood sustainability efforts are ranked fifth among the country’s top 26 retailers. The report evaluates major U.S. retailers for the sustainability of their seafood in four key areas: policy, initiatives, labeling and transparency, and Red List inventory.


According to the report, “Hy-Vee’s remarkable entrance can be credited to the seafood team’s internal drive and proactive approach to seafood sustainability, coupled with corporate-level endorsement and confidence in its category staff.”

“We were surprised at how well Hy-Vee performed, by essentially rocketing to fifth place, which is a particularly impressive showing for a new entrant to the evaluations,” said James Mitchell, Greenpeace senior seafood campaigner.

Thank you to the Hy-Vee team who worked on this initiative, as well as our customers who support these efforts through purchasing responsible choice items. We could not have done this without each of you, and we look forward to continually improving our offerings in the future!

Copper River Salmon, the Best of the Alaskan Catch, is on Its Way to Select Markets

Salmon lovers, this is what you’ve been waiting for: highly prized fresh Copper River/Prince William Sound salmon will be available at select Hy-Vee stores starting May 21, signaling the beginning of the 2014 wild salmon season in Alaska.

From now through fall, Hy-Vee customers will find some of the best of the catch in the fresh seafood counter at selected stores. It’s all Responsible Choice, a strong start to our commitment to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015.

Because it’s from Alaska, where sustainability of the seafood industry – the state’s largest employer – is so important it’s written into the state Constitution, our customers also have the satisfaction of knowing that the salmon comes from the best managed fisheries in the world.

The Copper River salmon from Cordova, AK, has an intense taste that comes from the size of the Copper River, one of the largest rivers in the world, and its cold waters, and it is considered the best salmon on the market.

The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has done a fantastic marketing job. Alaska Airlines flies in the first ceremonial fish to Seattle, where some of the cities top executive chefs compete for the best salmon recipe in a now annual tradition known as the Copper Chef Cook-Off.

All that hype has made Copper River such a recognizable brand that out customers sometimes mistakenly refer to it as a species instead of a geographic area. There are three species of salmon in the Copper River District, and this year, it’s estimated that 1.60 million sockeye, 22,000 king salmon, and 280,000 Coho will be caught in the short, 4 to 6 week season.

Various factors can affect the total catch, including careful monitoring of the salmon run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Officials want to make sure enough salmon escape to make their return not only their natal river to spawn, but to the exact spot of their birth.

As the wild salmon season progresses, Hy-Vee’s customers will see various other species of salmon showing up in the seafood case. As more becomes available, prices will adjust accordingly.

Environmental Advocacy: We Can’t Just Kick the Can Down the Road on Bering Sea Canyons. We Must Protect Them Now.

As a leading provider of commercial seafood in the United States, Hy-Vee is taking a progressive approach on several key environmental advocacy initiatives that we expect will have a positive effect on the health of the oceans and the species that live and swim in them.

We have made a strong commitment to building a market for Responsible Choice seafood. This makes us an important stakeholder in discussions about how to best protect the health of ecosystems that harbor and nurture that seafood.

Here’s a recent example of how we’re using our sway:

Hy-Vee appealed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to approve protections for the Zhemchung and Pribilof canyons, which are carved into the Bering Sea shelf break, a unique ecoregion known as the Green Belt due to its extraordinary productivity.

The canyons contain abundant and diverse corals and sponges that provide valuable habitat for commercially important fish and other marine species. In many parts of the canyons, the deep sea corals can be over 1,000 years old. If stripped from the ocean floor or crushed by fishing gear, the corals are unlikely to will recover, creating a habitat deficit that is difficult if not impossible to regenerate.

Numerous fish and crab species depend upon canyon terrain for spawning and nursery areas, making these habitats important for sustaining species’ populations. Commercially important species that utilize the canyons for essential fish habitat include rockfish, Pacific cod, halibut, pollock and several species of crab.

Based on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assessment that said the geography, if not the habitat, of the canyons is unique and continuous study was warranted, the council decided on further study – the equivalent of kicking the can down the road.

Hy-Vee and a coalition of environmental groups and other stakeholders have taken the position that additional study isn’t the right tack. Protecting the canyons now is the equivalent of providing stakeholders with an insurance policy that can help preserve biodiversity as well as ensure the sustainability of fisheries and seafood supply.

Our leadership in advocacy on this issue may surprise some people. It’s as simple as this: we want to be able to offer our customers the species most impacted by non-sustainable management practices well into the future. If the experts we rely on urge more protection, we’re going to side with these approaches.

We can’t just protect one species at a time. We’ve made a commitment to other sea life and habitat, and one of the ways to accomplish this is to make sure all the species thrive.

Additional Resources

What’s the Catch? Key Issues Affecting Seafood Sustainability

Four primary issues affect the sustainability of seafood, and Hy-Vee is paying close attention as part of the company’s efforts to responsibly source its fresh and private label frozen seafood products by the end of 2015.

One is no more important than another. If one of the issues gets out of balance, it can affect another.

1. Impacts on target stock – is the species being overfished? One example of a species that is being overfished is Bluefin tuna, which is called “toro” in fancy sushi restaurants. Hy-Vee doesn’t carry Bluefin tuna because of the many environmental issues associated with this fishery.

These days, the United States does a good job managing its fisheries and products from domestic fisheries usually meet Hy-Vee’s definition of responsible sourcing. But there have been problems in the past – with Atlantic cod, for example – and when fisheries are depleted, recovery takes a very long time because the fish are long-lived and don’t reproduce quickly. That means a long period where certain species are unavailable from the time the overfishing stops and the population rebounds.

One issue we’re seeing now is that as domestic stocks are recovering, international fisheries are being depleted.

2. Impacts on other species (bycatch) – how much bycatch is occurring and what non-target species are being caught accidentally? Some gear types like huge longlines indiscriminately catch endangered species like sea birds, sharks, and sea turtles, while some gear types are more selective and only catch one fish at a time.

In the conservation world, the incidental catch of large marine mammals like dolphins helped inspire people and catalyze a movement toward more awareness of the serious issues with fishing. That problem is less severe now, but bycatch is still a problem and we’re seeing issues with other species.

3. Habitat and ecosystem impacts – is the fishing gear affecting the surrounding habitat? Is the fishery removing all the top predators from the ecosystem and changing the dynamics of the marine community? Some gear types like trawl nets that drag along the seafloor can have a significant impact on ancient coral communities – some of them 1,000 years old or more – while some gear types like pole-and-line never come into contact with the bottom.

We have to be mindful that when we take away too many predators, the ecosystem can get out of balance and that can affect the habitat sea life needs to survive.

An example of this is found in kelp forests, where sea otters were hunted for their furs. With the predators gone, that allowed the sea urchins to invade and eat the kelp. The effects were felt throughout the ecosystem, as the kelp is important habitat not only for marine mammals like sea otters, sea lions, seals and grey whales, but also for many types of rockfish.

4. Management – are the rules regulating the fishery working? Most fisheries in the US are very well managed but some international fisheries have lax regulations, or no regulations at all. Illegal fishing can be a major problem in fisheries with poor management. Illegal fishing harms honest fishermen, weakens coastal communities, is associated with crime such as narcotraffic and human rights abuses, and undermines companies like Hy-Vee that are trying to do the right thing.

Assessing these four criteria gives FishWise an understanding of the wild fisheries supplying Hy-Vee’s seafood products, and whether those products qualify for one of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice labels. When Hy-Vee’s customers see the Responsible Choice label, they can be confident that the seafood they’re buying is not contributing to unhealthy oceans.

The Ross Sea Pledge isn’t Just Words on Paper for Hy-Vee

As part of our efforts to responsibly source Hy-Vee seafood and fish, we’re involved in some behind-the-scenes environmental efforts intended to prevent some problems before they occur.

One of those efforts is the Ross Sea Pledge. The Ross Sea teems with species of large predatory fish and small krill, tiny crustaceans that are a giant link in the aquatic food chain and help sustain the whales, seals, penguins and other aquatic mammals that live in this pristine, unaltered ecosystem. It’s a magnificent “living laboratory” for scientists to study marine life and is known as “the last ocean” because of its relatively untouched state.

Unfortunately, the Ross Sea is vulnerable. By signing the Ross Sea Pledge, Hy-Vee has given its word that it won’t be part of that developing problem and is, in fact, part of the solution. By signing the pledge, Hy-Vee supports creation of a Marine Protected Area to protect the area against commercial fishing and pollution. This initiative is broadly supported by governments, scientists, NGOs and the fishing industry.

Hy-Vee is proud to be part of that group. What it means to customers is that we will not procure Antarctic toothfish (known as Chilean sea bass) from the Ross Sea. By taking a hands-off approach to that species from the Southern Ocean, we join others in working to reduce the level of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Southern Ocean. Chilean sea bass is a notorious species for IUU fishing.

We’re not the only retailer supporting the initiative, but we are one of the few who are taking these aggressive steps to ensure that we’re procuring seafood for our customers in a way that not only protects the supply of seafood for generations to come but also the health of the oceans.

By the end of 2015, all fresh and Hy-Vee brand seafood will be responsibly sourced.

We’ve staked our corporate word on that, something we don’t do lightly. It’s not just lip service; we’re taking the actions to back it up.

More detailed information about the Ross Sea can be found here.

Hy-Vee is Working Behind the Scenes on Marine Conservation Programs That Make Every Day Earth Day

Authored by Kathleen Mullen-Ley & Nate Stewart

How Hy-Vee’s Responsible Seafood Program relates to the larger picture of marine conservation.

Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22, but Hy-Vee is making environmentally responsible choices every day. One of the most visible is the Responsible Choice initiative – Hy-Vee’s pledge to customers to responsibly source all fresh and frozen Hy-Vee brand fish by the end of 2015.

Less visible but no less important are three major marine conservation initiatives.
These are huge efforts that are not necessary to meeting Hy-Vee’s seafood goals, but are important to Hy-Vee in establishing itself as an industry leader in marine conservation issues.

Retailer participation in advocacy issues and reform is becoming increasingly important to customers as public awareness of threats to marine ecosystems grows. Hy-Vee supports the following three initiatives to help protect the oceans.

  1. Ross Sea Pledge
    The Ross Sea in Antarctica is the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth, supporting exceptional abundances of krill, penguins, fishes, and marine mammals, and it offers important scientific research opportunities only available in this unique place. To support the creation of a marine protected area in one of the world’s most isolated and pristine ecosystems, Hy-Vee publicly pledged that it will not procure Antarctic toothfish (also known as Chilean sea bass) from the Ross Sea.
  2. Genetically Engineered Seafood Pledge
    Hy-Vee extended its commitment to not sell genetically engineered (GE) salmon to include all GE seafood. There currently is no GE seafood on the market, but Hy-Vee is taking this proactive step in part because a technology company has petitioned the FDA for approval of an Atlantic salmon that contains genes from several other species that allow it to grow faster.This is a concern not only for the 93 percent of Americans who favor GMO labeling, but also from an environmental standpoint. Because they are modified to grow faster, there are valid concerns that these farm-raised GE salmon could escape and out-compete wild salmon populations, leading to the decline of wild salmon stocks. Anyone who values biological diversity does not want to go in that direction.
  3. Protection for the Bering Sea Canyons
    On Jan. 28, 2014, Hy-Vee sent a letter to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) in support of the establishment of a Fishery Ecosystem Management Plan for the Bering Sea, including protections for the Zhemchung and Pribilof canyons.A protected zone over these canyons is important because these areas have deep sea coral and sponge habitat that provide a very rare nursery for fish. Healthy coral and sponge habitat leads to healthy stocks of many commercially important fish, including Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, and numerous species of rockfish.

All three of these initiatives are ongoing, and Hy-Vee is committed to remaining engaged.