Earth Day: How Does Responsible Seafood Fit into the Larger Environmental Conservation Picture?

Happy Earth Day. For 45 years, Earth Day has been a celebration of environmental conservation in the United States. The earth is facing a lot of environmental stresses, including overfishing, climate change, air and water pollution and a growing human population. Earth Day is part of a global effort to protect the planet and secure a sustainable future.

Earth Day activities aim to raise awareness on many topics, such as climate change, organic agriculture, clean air and water, clean energy, reducing consumption, recycling, endangered species, healthy oceans and more.

How does sourcing seafood responsibly fit into the larger picture?

The health of our oceans is vital to the environment. The main focus of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice program is to stop global overfishing. The ocean faces many “health problems” like ocean acidification, offshore drilling and pollution. When the pressure on the oceans from overfishing is reduced, the overall health of the oceans improves. It’s important to reduce habitat damage caused by harmful fishing practices, which also helps reduce the threat to a sustainable ocean future.

Buying Responsible Choice seafood is a way for Hy-Vee customers to contribute to the global Earth Day effort to secure a sustainable future. When customers demand responsibly sourced seafood at grocery stores and restaurants, companies translate that demand up the supply chain and motivate producers to minimize the environmental impact of their operations.

Customers can commit to purchasing seafood caught in U.S. waters, which has well-managed fisheries with enforcement of environmental laws. Shoppers may also consider adding local produce to meals to cut down on fossil fuels used in the transportation of fruits and vegetables.

Consumers can treat every day like Earth Day by using reusable products like bags and water bottles to cut down on waste and reduce energy use. Educating themselves about environmental issues is the first step people can take to learn how to improve their habits to be less harmful to the environment. If everyone makes individual efforts to minimize their impact, together we’ll take a large step forward to protect the planet and secure a sustainable future.

Hy-Vee is striving to be a leader in conservation efforts for the betterment of our environment and our customers. You can read more details at hy-vee360.com and on our recently updated Responsible Choice Seafood website.

Making the Responsible Choice: A Collaborative Effort to Eradicate Human Trafficking, Forced Labor in Seafood Supply Chains

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice initiative is more than a commitment to food safety and protecting the environment, it’s also about responsible sourcing and that includes the safety and well-being of the men and women working throughout the supply chain. In light of the exposure of human trafficking in Southeast Asia and Thailand over the past couple of years and its relation to the seafood industry, Hy-Vee and FishWise urge customers and businesses to support and take interest in how their seafood is being sourced.

The key to responsible sourcing is knowledge. Often times, leading seafood buyers across the globe are indirectly supporting mistreatment of laborers by buying and selling seafood from unregulated markets. One of the biggest issues related to this issue in U.S. seafood procurement is traceability. Without knowledge of where the product came from, companies cannot verify supply chain compliance with labor laws and human rights standards. The issue is further complicated in seafood supply chains when demand for low prices undermines responsible business practices, and a lack of regulations and inadequate oversight open the door for various labor abuses.

Hy-Vee is continuously working to improve transparency in its seafood supply chains by ensuring their products are traceable back to the point of harvest — whether it’s a fishery or farming operation. To this end, Hy-Vee regularly collects information about the chain of custody and sustainability of seafood products from their suppliers, and Hy-Vee’s seafood vendors have been notified of the commitment to responsible sourcing and traceability.

As a customer, there are several ways you can be part of the conversation. First, ask questions when purchasing seafood in a store or at a restaurant. Questions related to where the seafood came from, how they trace their seafood and if the seafood is a responsibly sourced item produced with fair labor standards are a good place to start. This sends the message that traceability is important to you and encourages business owners to be held accountable. From there, you can take action by supporting retailers and restaurants that are committed to responsible sourcing.

Hy-Vee has committed to selling responsibly sourced fresh and frozen seafood that is rated as a Green “Best Choice” or a Yellow “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these ratings, or sourced from credible, time-bound improvement projects. You can make informed and sustainable seafood purchasing decisions by utilizing the seafood buying guides on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website at seafoodwatch.org or the Seafood Watch app on your smartphone.

In addition to customer concern, all companies must implement responsible sourcing plans to ensure that human trafficking, forced labor and other human rights violations are not present in their supply chains. U.S. retailers, foodservice providers, distributors and others in the supply chain can use their buying power to lead change in the entire seafood industry.

There are several steps U.S. seafood businesses can take to ensure they are not buying seafood associated with human rights abuses. First and foremost, organizations should ensure products can be traced to origin and names and addresses of all entities that handled the product can be identified. Companies can also support labor audits through all steps in the supply chain, ensure each link in the supply chain makes a documentable pledge to customers to avoid labor abuse, share concerns and stipulate procurement on the supplier’s ability to regulate human trafficking and labor violations, and finally, communicate clearly with customers. This entails providing the origin of fisheries and the actions taken to guarantee products are not connected to human rights abuses, labor violations or environmental damage.

Hy-Vee has taken steps to ensure responsible sourcing through the Responsible Choice initiative. With collaborative efforts, we can all help to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in today’s global seafood industry.

For more information visit FishWise’s Human Trafficking, Forced Labor Q & A:
http://fishwise.org/index.php/press/blog/286-human-trafficking-forced-labor-and-seafood-q-a

Hy-Vee Defines Six Fields of Sustainability, Upholds Commitment to Responsible Choice Initiative

Today’s consumers are interested in and concerned about their food supply. From nutritional value and quality to sourcing and environmental impact, customers are asking for transparency. Through Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative, the company has taken it upon itself to provide a new level of consumer confidence.

Hy-Vee takes its commitment to responsible seafood seriously, which is why the company requires a thorough assessment before a seafood offering may be deemed a Responsible Choice item. As part of Hy-Vee’s Seafood Procurement Policy, vendors are required to provide comprehensive information on six fields of sustainability for the shipment to be labeled “Responsible Choice.” These six fields ensure best practices are being met and vendors are accountable for their products. It also ensures products can be traced back to their origin.

The six fields include:

  1. The seafood’s generic, market name. This field lists the generic, market name most commonly used in the store, and the name most customers would recognize. For this example, we will use Alaska pollock. The market name for this seafood is Alaska pollock.
  2. Scientific species name. The species name discloses the seafood’s full scientific name, which is often in Latin or Greek. The Latin name for Alaska pollock is Theragra chalcogramma.
  3. Country of catch or production. This field notes the country in which the product was caught or farmed and ensures the first degree of traceability is met. The Alaska pollock was caught in the United States.
  4. Region of catch or production. The region field describes specifically the ocean, lake or location of the farm in which the product was caught. This also aids in traceability efforts and holds vendors accountable for their catch. Alaska was the region of catch for the Alaska pollock.
  5. Gear type/production method. This field names the method used to catch or farm the product, which ensures seafood vendors are utilizing responsible fishing practices as approved by the Responsible Choice program. This means the seafood was harvested in a way that provides for its long-term viability and also minimizes damage to the environment and other sea life. The gear type for Alaska pollock is midwater trawl.
  6. Sustainability eco-certification (if applicable). The final field requires the vendor to provide the name of the organization(s) from which it obtained certification. Hy-Vee and the seafood industry trust accredited third-party resources to ensure the vendor meets industry standards and follows best practices. An example is a certification or accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Based on this information, Hy-Vee and FishWise then determine if the product should receive Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice label, which indicates that the product meets Hy-Vee’s standard for responsibly sourced seafood. Hy-Vee defines “responsibly sourced” as seafood that is Green or Yellow rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program or is certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these thorough ratings (e.g. MSC certified).

Ultimately, Hy-Vee’s goal in assessing each vendor according to these six sustainability fields is to ensure each utilizes environmentally-friendly practices, is transparent regarding where the product was caught or raised, and provides a safe, quality product for their customers. Each of these six fields is listed on the product’s master case label and is available to customers upon request.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative is more than an idea, it is a promise to customers. Hy-Vee’s commitment is executed through each purchasing decision and reflects the standards set within the Responsible Choice initiative.

Hy-Vee Commits to Healthy Oceans by Refusing to Sell Chilean Sea Bass

Hy-Vee has pledged to not source Chilean sea bass from the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Chilean sea bass is the market name for two different species: Antarctic toothfish and Patagonian toothfish. However, the only fishery in the world for Antarctic toothfish is in the Ross Sea.

Hy-Vee is taking this action in order to follow through with our commitment to help support healthy oceans. Hy-Vee is proud to give our word that we won’t be part of the developing problem and that we are actually part of the solution.

Toothfish are found throughout large areas of the sub-Antarctic oceans, but primarily in the southern parts of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Toothfish are large, slow-growing species that dwell in deeper water depths of 5,000 to 6,000 feet. They play a significant role in the oceans’ ecosystems as both prey and predator. Toothfish are important prey species for killer whales, sperm whales and Weddell seals.

For nearly two decades, toothfish have been overfished in some areas. Most toothfish are caught using bottom longline gear. “Bycatch,” or non-target species accidentally caught during fishing operations, vary widely in toothfish fisheries that use bottom longline. In the Ross Sea, threatened or vulnerable species such as skates, rays and grenadiers are often caught. However, bird bycatch has been steadily decreasing in certain areas due to a number of initiatives, including seabird avoidance gear.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Website Updates

In efforts to better inform customers about our progress toward meeting our 2015 Responsible Sourcing Commitment this past year, we have added additional information and resources to the Responsible Choice section of our website.

One highlight: as of September 2014, 69 percent of Hy-Vee’s fresh and private-label frozen seafood met the goal of being responsibly sourced and traceable or involved in a time-bound improvement process for completion by year-end 2015. This is a seven percent improvement from an analysis made in March 2014.

FishWise

We have also included information about the sourcing of our private-label Hy-Vee Select solid light tuna and Hy-Vee Select solid white albacore tuna. Canned tuna is one of the top three most-consumed seafood products in the United States and is in high demand. However, its popularity has also led to the decline of many tuna stocks in the world’s oceans and the use of poor fishing methods. Given these concerns, Hy-Vee recently unveiled these two new canned tuna products offering a Responsible Choice option for a popular product.

To promote healthy oceans and ensure long-term seafood supplies, Hy-Vee is actively encouraging many of its seafood suppliers to participate in fishery improvement project (FIPs). These are an important component of Hy-Vee’s Seafood Procurement Policy as they provide a direct pathway for Hy-Vee to encourage supplier sustainability. Hy-Vee and its suppliers are involved in improvement projects for the following species: swordfish, wild shrimp, snapper, grouper and blue swimming crab.

We also added information on what customers can do to help save the oceans. Examples include purchasing Hy-Vee seafood with the Responsible Choice label and becoming educated about ocean sustainability research from other sources such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website.

We invite you to visit Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice website to review our progress, changes and additional information.

Hy-Vee: No Chilean Sea Bass from the Ross Sea

The Ross Sea in Antarctica is the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth, supporting exceptional abundances of organisms such as krill, penguins, fishes and marine mammals. It’s often referred to as the “Last Ocean” by scientists because of its remoteness and rich diversity of marine life.

This prolific ecosystem was essentially untouched by humans until 1996, when commercial fishing began for Antarctic toothfish, more commonly known as “Chilean sea bass.” The name “Chilean sea bass” is an acceptable market name for two different species: Patagonian toothfish and Antarctic toothfish. However, the only fishery for Antarctic toothfish is in the Ross Sea. Chilean sea bass are an important prey species for killer whales, sperm whales and Weddell seals.

Around 8% of the catch by weight in the Ross Sea Chilean sea bass fishery is “bycatch,” or non-target species accidentally caught during fishing operations. The bycatch often includes threatened or endangered species of grenadiers, skates and rays.

In support of the creation of a marine protected area in one of the world’s most isolated and pristine marine ecosystems, Hy-Vee pledged not to purchase Chilean sea bass from the Ross Sea. 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, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the fishing industry.

Hy-Vee is proud to give our word that we won’t be part of that developing problem and are, in fact, part of the solution.

For customers looking for an alternative to Chilean sea bass, Hy-Vee offers an excellent sustainable substitute with Alaska sablefish.

From the Pacific to Your Plate: Ecuadorian Mahi Mahi meets Responsible Choice Standards

As one of the primary consumers of mahi mahi, other than people in areas of the Caribbean, U.S. residents have developed a taste for this lean, tropical fish. Hy-Vee is pleased to meet our customer demand by offering wild-caught mahi mahi in our cases daily. By partnering with Southstream Seafoods, Inc., Hy-Vee honors our Responsible Choice seafood initiative to provide a great-tasting product, while also paying close regard to food safety and the environment.

Founded in 1989, Southstream Seafoods was selected as Hy-Vee’s mahi mahi supplier for various reasons, including quality of product, responsible catch methods and management processes. Most important, Southstream, like Hy-Vee, recognizes consumer demand for confidence in quality and food safety.

Hy-Vee’s mahi mahi is sourced from the Ecuador coast using artisanal longlines, which are shorter than industrial longlines and thus prevent the accidental capture of non-target species like endangered sea turtles and sharks. The first step in the process, responsible catch methods are essential to promote environmental stewardship.

Once caught, the mahi mahi is landed alive and frozen within hours to maintain quality texture and flavor. Each fillet is then hand-cut for portion and quality control. From there, the product is shipped to and packaged in Everett, Massachusetts, and transported on refrigerated Hy-Vee trucks. Upon arrival in Des Moines, the fish is carefully reviewed by the full-time U.S. Department of Commerce inspector to ensure all quality, wholesomeness and weight requirements are met.

As an added benefit, once the mahi mahi hits your plate, it is low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamin B12 and B6, phosphorus, potassium, protein, niacin and selenium. It is known for its lean, firm and large flakes, mild flavor and usage in fish tacos.

Hy-Vee’s partnership with its suppliers extends beyond supply and demand. Our promise to provide a quality product you can feel safe feeding your family, while also remaining responsible stewards of the environment, is displayed through our Responsible Choice initiative. At Hy-Vee, we only partner with suppliers who exemplify the same sentiment as we hold that commitment to our customers with the utmost regard.

Hy-Vee Sets a New Standard When It Comes to Local – Sourcing Hybrid Striped Bass and Barramundi from the Heartland

Authored by John Rohrs & Kathleen Mullen-Ley

In a country that imports over 90 percent of its seafood, it’s rare to find a restaurant or grocery store that sources its seafood locally. However, with Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood program, we are doing just that by achieving the highest standards, keeping a close eye on environmental stewardship and upholding accountability to our customers.

Regarding the fresh hybrid striped bass and barramundi in our case daily, the local story begins with a family-owned and operated company in Blairsburg, Iowa – Iowa’s First. Hy-Vee learned about the forward-thinking style of raising seafood inland and jumped at the opportunity to transition from international sources to a local partner. And the benefits are endless.

Encouraged by FishWise, our nonprofit sustainable seafood partner, to utilize land-based aquaculture systems, Hy-Vee is proud to partner with another environmentally conscious company as part of our Responsible Choice initiative. Land-based aquaculture systems mitigate or eliminate many of the negative impacts to the surrounding environment typical of traditional ocean-based aquaculture systems and minimize biosecurity risks.

Sourcing from a local, land-based fish farm also leads to exemplary traceability. In fact, in a land-based system, each fish is observed and handled with care from the farm to your plate. Ongoing efforts to improve the quality of product are constant. For example, this summer Iowa’s First implemented a new system of LED lighting to simulate sunrise and sunset times, which is key to improving feeding time and managing stress levels of the fish.

Iowa’s First utilizes a flow through system to remove waste properly that ensures the system remains clean without the use of antibiotics. This is done by using a series of tanks to warm and oxygenate water, which is then circulated through various filters to collect waste and convert the waste’s ammonia to nitrates. Any wastewater remaining is sent to a nearby lagoon and later used to irrigate fields near the facility.

In addition to the safe, local practices, hybrid striped bass and barramundi have received a “Best Choice” or Green Rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and a ringing endorsement for health from Dr. Oz.

“Free of mercury, but full of heart–and brain–healthy omega-3s, barramundi is a shoe-in for one of my top 5 superfoods. Bonus: the white meat is light, flaky and delicious,” says Oz.

Hy-Vee’s partnership with Iowa’s First is a great opportunity for us to support local business and community, all while offering a safe, traceable product for our customers. We are proud to offer fresh, quality seafood and will continue to look for ways to improve these efforts.

Supplier Spotlight: Belize Shrimp is the Perfect Combination of Responsible Choice and Delicious

As this blog can attest, we at Hy-Vee are serious about promoting healthy oceans and ensuring the long-term viability of the seafood supply—both in the United States and abroad. As a part of this commitment and our Responsible Choice initiative, we are excited to introduce Belize shrimp to our customers and into our seafood cases.

Produced by Belize Aquaculture Ltd. from one of the most environmentally advanced eco-aquaculture systems in the world, this white leg shrimp is farmed in ponds that contain water pumped daily from the Caribbean Sea—making it famously known as being “fresh out of the water.” The physical location and the production method provide the ideal environment for shrimp farming – perfect weather, rich coastlines and nutritious water.

Fisheries and farms around the globe are facing challenges in creating and implementing sustainable practices and environments. Belize and Belize Aquaculture Ltd. are ahead of the curve in properly managing their shrimp and their production environment. Belize Aquaculture is a “Best Aquaculture Practices” or “BAP” 3 star, which is one step from the highest rating. This has been achieved in part thanks to advanced education and training, and has helped to raise the industry standards in minimizing the impact on coastal waters and wildlife. Education also helps farmers to keep the shrimp robust and pure while producing less waste and contamination.

Now, let’s talk about the delicious, savory taste of these shrimp. Because these shrimp are raised on a special diet, they are uniquely sweet and succulent. They have a firm bite, giving many customers the shrimp flavor profile they desire. Due to Belize Aquaculture Ltd.’s practices, there are no additives or preservatives, no antibiotics, no hormones and no chemicals used in the production of this shrimp. In addition, the processing facility is a mere 10 minutes away from the farm—much closer than the industry standard of four to 12 hours. The combination of the production and processing standards means that you won’t find anything more natural or fresh than this shrimp.

And, it’s easy to prepare in a variety of ways. Boil it, sauté it or grill it and serve with classic cocktail sauce, or use Old Bay seasoning and butter for a little extra flavoring. Due to the freshness and quick processing time, this shrimp cooks in half the time as normal shrimp which helps on those busy summer nights when dinner needs to be made quickly. Be aware of the vibrant and dark red coloring the shrimp will possess when ready; it’s imperative to not overcook them. Our seafood counter experts or in-store chefs will be able to provide you with cooking suggestions and a recipe if you’d like, but no matter how you prepare them you can be confident that you are dining on one of the world’s best-tasting shrimp.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood Species Come from the U.S. Side of the Gulf of Mexico, Where Fisheries are Well Managed

John Rohrs here:

When Hy-Vee customers buy Responsible Choice seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s predominantly from the U.S. side, where fisheries maintain quota systems and meet Monterey Bay Aquarium’s criterion for management.

One of the biggest factors affecting fin fish from the Gulf is sport fishing. Sportsmen and women are required to buy licenses, but it still has a huge effect on stocks. Between a combination of commercial fishing and recreational fishing, there is a great pressure on fin fish.

Some of the species customers will get from the Gulf include fish from the grouper family. We also bring in some American red snapper, but years of overfishing – it’s also one of the top species for sport fishing – make it a work in progress. It’s a long-living, late-maturing fish, so it will take time for stocks to rebound.

Kathleen Mullen-Ley here:

Hy-Vee’s wild shrimp also comes from Gulf of Mexico and meets the commitment to responsibly source all seafood by the end of 2015 because the species is in a comprehensive fishery improvement project.

Here’s the problem:
Many commercial fishing boats are complying with federal law that requires the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in federal and state waters, but Louisiana has a state law that prohibits enforcement of the federal law.

All of the shrimp caught in the Gulf is processed together, meaning the shrimp caught in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida is commingled with the shrimp caught in Louisiana. So because that Louisiana law is on the books, we can’t say Gulf wild shrimp is Responsible Choice, even though many fisheries are using TEDs.

Legislative efforts are continuing to bring everyone into compliance and end the political power struggle.