Sourcing Seafood from the Atlantic Illustrates Nuances of Hy-Vee’s Procurement Policy

Wrtten by John Rohrs & Kathleen Mullen-ley

Hy-Vee has made a strategic decision through its Responsible Choice seafood program to not regularly feature finfish from the Atlantic Ocean in its seafood counters – an example of the company’s commitment to responsible stewardship of the world’s oceans.

The sustainability of finfish stocks from the Atlantic Ocean is evaluated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (MBA) Seafood Watch program. MBA uses a “traffic light” color rating system to assess the sustainability of species and make recommendations for seafood buyers, with a Green rating indicating a “best choice,” a Yellow rating indicating a “good alternative,” and a Red rating indicating consumers should “avoid.”

Some finfish species from the Atlantic Ocean are Yellow rated by MBA, meaning they are generally well managed. However, some species are Red rated, meaning that they are not being fished sustainably. There are even some finfish species that are Yellow rated in one region and Red rated in a different region due to differences in the type of gear used and in management effectiveness.

Two examples of species with both Yellow rated and Red rated sources are Atlantic cod and American lobster.

Atlantic cod is one of the best examples anywhere of the problems created by overfishing. There’s no denying cod was an important commodity in early American history, and one that helped New England develop. However, the cod fishing industry is one of the most famous examples of a fishery collapse. It takes a very long time for populations to come back – often decades – and some fisheries never rebound.

It’s good business to take a hands-off approach in overfished areas, and give stocks time to recover, and Hy-Vee is doing its part. The well-managed wild fisheries in Alaska and the Pacific are meeting Hy-Vee customers’ demands for the popular whitefish.

The Atlantic is an important source for most of Hy-Vee’s shellfish, including fresh American lobster.

The famous American lobster fisheries are doing very well right now, but sourcing demonstrates just how nuanced Hy-Vee’s procurement policies are. The Maine stock is doing very well (Yellow rated), but in southern New England, stocks are overfished (Red rated). So Hy-Vee is careful in its procurement, ensuring none of its lobster comes from regions pressured by overfishing.

Some of the best sustainability stories come from Green rated oyster, mussel and scallop fisheries. Oysters and mussels are cultured, growing in beds and on ropes, respectively, and are important soldiers in bay ecology efforts. Scallops are wild-caught in open and closed beds that are well-managed.

Blue crab, often called Chesapeake blue crab because of its importance to the region’s economy, environment and culture, is another success story. Blue crab populations are rebounding because of careful management of the fisheries with limits on commercial and recreational fisheries.

Demand for this tasty, versatile seafood is so great that Hy-Vee supplements its supply with blue crab from other countries. Overall, Hy-Vee’s approach to Atlantic seafood can be described as thoughtful and proactive, and the company will continue to shift its procurement practices to address fishing patterns, among other items.

Author: John Rohrs

I’m John Rohrs, seafood purchasing manager at Perishable Distributors of Iowa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hy-Vee established in 1982 to provide a central distribution system for perishable products to Iowa stores. In my job, I work with stores to help create more sales and educate employees on seafood. Through Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice initiative I’ve enjoyed meeting and communicating with vendors and creating the friendships that make our partnerships work.

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