Stronger Together: How Hy-Vee Partners with Suppliers to Source Responsible Seafood

In a world where year-round demand for America’s favorite seafood drives global markets, who is working to ensure products are legally harvested? Fishers? Governments? NGOs? Yes, but that’s not the whole story. Businesses buying and selling these products play a critical role in combating illegal fishing and have the buying power to create real change throughout the seafood industry.

Hy-Vee was ranked No. 2 among the nation’s largest supermarket chains for its progressive sustainability efforts in Greenpeace’s 2018 Carting Away the Oceans (CATO) report. That achievement was in part due to the work that Hy-Vee does to support efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and ensure that its products are sourced legally and sustainably. However, Hy-Vee recognizes that it cannot reach this goal alone.

Why Hy-Vee Works With Suppliers to Fight Illegal Fishing

A seafood product’s journey from the water to the supermarket can be complex, involving several businesses along the way. This creates opportunities for illegal practices to potentially occur, but retailers alone cannot address these risks. Therefore, every business involved in bringing seafood to the consumer needs to be dedicated to ensuring that their business and the ones that they work with are committed to using sustainable and legal practices.

This year, Hy-Vee has partnered with two of its seafood suppliers and the nonprofit sustainable seafood consultancy FishWise to ensure that legal fishing best practices are in place for some of its popular seafood products. One of these suppliers, Orca Bay Foods, LLC., sells a variety of seafood products, including mahi-mahi, to Hy-Vee. Orca Bay Foods, LLC. sources this mahi from a fishery improvement project (FIP), and supports the FIP in reaching its goals around improved sustainability and traceability.

Hy-Vee Partners with Orca Bay Foods, LLC. to Create Improvements

Hy-Vee, Orca Bay Foods, LLC., and FishWise worked together to take an in-depth look at this product to ensure that its harvest and journey to Hy-Vee’s shelves were in compliance with fishing and importing laws and regulations. A large part of verifying that a product is legal and sustainable is having the data to know where it comes from. They also worked with Orca Bay Foods, LLC. to ensure that the company has procedures in place that allow it to monitor potential illegal fishing risks within its supply chains, and maintain frequent communication with the companies that it does business with. As a business striving to support traceable and legal seafood, Orca Bay Foods, LLC. was an ideal partner to work with Hy-Vee on this effort.

“We’re incredibly pleased with Orca Bay Foods, LLC.’s collaboration on this project and efforts to strengthen the legal fishing practices for this mahi product,” said Nate Stewart, executive vice president of perishables at Hy-Vee. “Hy-Vee is dedicated to being a leader in sustainability, and we hope to set an example with this effort that other companies will follow.”

FishWise reviewed this product’s documentation from its harvest to Hy-Vee’s stores to ensure that the vessel catching it was permitted to fish, the vessel and its captain had never been cited for illegal fishing, and all import documentation was properly filled in, among many other legal fishing best practices.

Some of these best practices include:

  • Improving product data collection
  • Advocating for regional and international regulations to combat illegal fishing in this fishery
  • Improving communication around legal fishing expectations between Hy-Vee, Orca Bay Foods, LLC., and the companies they do business with

Improving Seafood Sustainability Through Collaboration

While tackling an issue such as illegal fishing can seem overwhelming, every effort counts and progress can be accelerated through collaboration. John Steinmetz, vice president of business development at Orca Bay Foods, LLC., said, “This project gave us valuable insight and provided us with recommendations and actions that will help ensure we can source this product sustainably for years to come.”

“It’s exciting to see a Midwest-based store like Hy-Vee make the effort to take a deep look into the origin of their seafood products,” said Traci Linder, senior project manager at FishWise. “This sends a message to the seafood industry that companies of any size, from the vessel owner to the retailer, can identify areas for improvement and work with its business partners toward achieving their goals. Proactive and collaborative efforts like these have benefits that cascade beyond Hy-Vee and its customers – ultimately helping improve the health of our oceans.”