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.

Author: Dennis Frauenholz

I’m Dennis Frauenholz, seafood manager at the Iowa City No. 1 Hy-Vee store. I’ve worked for Hy-Vee for 25 years, specializing in seafood for 20 years. I have a passion for seafood that goes beyond the checkout lane. I have visited Louisiana, Washington and Alaska to experience the seafood industry firsthand. Seafood is it is constantly changing; each day brings a new species, new sustainability issues, new culinary inspirations and new customers to the seafood counter. I am proud to work for Hy-Vee, a leader in the seafood industry, and glad I’m able to share knowledge about seafood with customers.