Measuring the Impact: Two Views on the Effect Hy-Vee’s Switch to Responsible Choice Seafood is Having on the Oceans

Kenan here:

By taking a proactive stand and role with our Responsible Choice seafood program, Hy-Vee is having a positive impact on the environment and ecosystem, step by step.

We are very committed to this. An important first step in that commitment involves educating our employees, so they can educate our customers, who have been clear that they want to know where their food comes from and how it’s being handled and raised.

We’re able to tell them that we’ve already made a difference in educating our suppliers and helping them to think differently about how fish is caught and raised. They’ve listened, and any time people become more aware, change occurs. This is also about the livelihoods of fishermen, because making changes ensures they will have a market for their catches in the future.

Changes won’t occur overnight, but any time you make improvements, you are helping. And any time you think about it, you are helping. I truly believe that any time you think about it as a retailer sourcing fish or as a consumer buying their catch, you’re having an impact. We make changes with our purchasing power.

We are looking at every species and how we can make improvements. We’re constantly asking ourselves, “What can we do better?”

We’re committed, but it’s a journey. We won’t get there overnight, but we will get there.

Kathleen here:

Kenan is absolutely right.

Hy-Vee’s purchasing power is making some changes on the water with more responsible sourcing. It’s already reducing bycatch and preventing overfishing to ensure seafood will be available for future generations to enjoy.

Because this is a brand new initiative, the changes are somewhat theoretical. But Hy-Vee is definitely leading the way and if all grocery chains in the United States had similar programs, the results would be more immediately quantifiable.

Some of the changes are showing up in the Hy-Vee seafood cases. They’ve dropped some notoriously overfished species, such as Atlantic cod, whose populations have been all but depleted by unsustainable practices. Also gone are some species of rock fish, which are long living and slow to mature. Allowing them to reach maturity means their populations will have a chance to recover.

Changes in harvesting is also minimizing damage to the ecosystem in other ways. Certain fishing methods are relatively unselective and practices are changing. Hy-Vee’s tuna supplier, for example, eliminated long lines with a thousand hooks and replaced them with poles with a single hook, which means fewer sea birds, sea turtles, juvenile tuna and other incidental species are being caught.

We’re also seeing a switch from bottom trawling, or the use of a heavy net to catch species such as shrimp, cod, sole and flounder that reside on the sea floor. The net scoops up everything in its path, from fish to corals, and tears up the habitat young fish need to survive.

These may seem like small steps, but they are important steps. Cumulatively, they are making a difference.

Author: Kenan Judge

I’m Kenan Judge, and I am the group vice president of meat and seafood operations for Hy-Vee, and have been in the industry for 37 years. I’m also a member of the Sustainable Seafood Committee for the Food Marketing Institute. Part of my job at Hy-Vee is to respond to increased customer demand for sustainably caught seafood, but also help move the industry forward in this area.

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