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.

With its Responsible Choice Initiative and Fishery Improvement Projects, Hy-Vee is Raising the Bar

One of the key goals of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice initiative is to help the seafood industry improve and help those fisheries and farms that are not performing at sustainable levels improve in discrete ways. To promote healthy oceans and ensure a long-term seafood supply, Hy-Vee is continuing to encourage its seafood suppliers to participate in fishery improvement projects (FIPs).

FIPs are an important component of Hy-Vee’s Seafood Procurement Policy as they provide a direct pathway for Hy-Vee to encourage improvements on the water, be that through strengthening fisheries management policies or by providing incentives for fishers to reduce the environmental impacts of their fishing gear.

What that means to the consumer is that though products from these fisheries may not currently meet the definition of “responsibly sourced” and be eligible for the Responsible Choice label, they still meet Hy-Vee’s 2015 Responsible Sourcing Commitment because they are in a “time-bound improvement process.”

These improvements may range from an internal agreement between FishWise and Hy-Vee about a particular seafood sourcing strategy, particularly for aquaculture, to external, multi-stakeholder efforts to improve a fishery, such as a fishery improvement project. In general, for an improvement project to meet Hy-Vee’s 2015 Commitment it must contain:

  • A time-bound component that establishes a clear objective consistent with the Seafood Procurement Policy
  • A work-plan with measurable indicators
  • A date by which the necessary improvements are to be achieved
  • Fishery improvement projects must meet the Guidelines for Supporting Improvement Projects established by the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions (available here)

The important takeaway for consumers is that Hy-Vee is doing important work on the water, whether encouraging fisheries to use different gear or implement new management plans that will move them toward sustainability.

It’s important to support those fisheries that are already doing a good job, but it’s just as important to work with those that are struggling to improve through FIPs. This is an important way that retailers can drive improvement. Without support from retailers, they don’t have the motivation to improve.

Pacific Seafood is Safe to Eat, Radiation Fears Three Years after Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan are Overblown

Consumer fears, many of them passed along virally on the internet, that fish from the Pacific Ocean contain unhealthy amounts of radiation are still persistent more than three years after a tsunami swamped the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Those concerns are overblown.

FishWise is continuing to follow the status of the radioactive plume of seawater from the power plant and its potential to contaminate Pacific seafood. Based on the best scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is still safe.

Among the agencies and groups testing the seafood are the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which routinely tests for radionuclides – or radioactive contaminants – and monitors information and data from foreign governments and international organizations. In March 2014, the FDA released this update on its website:

“To date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood. …”

The FDA is continuing its monitoring, as is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which measures levels of radiation in the air and precipitation through its RadNet program.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts are leading a volunteer radiation-monitoring project, called Our Radioactive Ocean, which said in a June 2014 statement:

“So far, none of the seawater samples taken from the Pacific Coast have contained any trace of radiation from Fukushima. They have contained the same levels of radiation that were evident in the Pacific Ocean before the Fukushima accident.”

A number of peer-reviewed studies also support our confidence that seafood from the Pacific is safe to eat.

Researchers involved in Kelp Watch 2014, a project that includes testing for radionuclide contamination of kelp forest ecosystems at multiple locations along the West coast are also confident that the radiation concentration found in kelp samples that will bioaccumulate in the food web that humans are part of will be so low as to pose no harm to human health.

Since the April 2011 disaster, a radioactive plume of contaminated seawater has been carried toward the West Coast of North America by ocean currents, but the Pacific is such a vast body of water that rapid dilution of the radioactive seawater means the concentration of radionuclides from Fukushima is expected to be only slightly above pre-accident levels, and far below naturally occurring radioactive elements in the ocean from environmental factors such as sunlight and weathering of rocks.

The takeaway from these and other findings for consumers of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood is that Pacific seafood is safe to eat. The risks of Fukushima-derived radiation are miniscule when compared to other things that threaten public health – for example smoking, air pollution and obesity, to name a few.

This vigilant testing has had a benefit beyond providing consumers with the assurances about the safety of seafood: It’s allowed scientists to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the migratory patterns of tuna.

Read more on the FishWise blog.

Only 6 Months Old, Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice Seafood Initiative is Already a Success Story

Six months into Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood program – our pledge to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand seafood by the end of 2015 – we’re ahead of where we thought we would be.

We’re not the only ones who think so. Greenpeace USA ranked us No. 5 among the country’s top 26 retailers for our efforts in its Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets report. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s the people who work at Hy-Vee and Perishable Distributors of Iowa (PDI) who give me the confidence to say that at this time next year, we will have made good on our pledge.

Some reasons:

Behind-the-scenes work building on already solid relationships with our partners for two years made for a smooth roll-out of the initiative earlier this year. We made sure our vendors were on board and all of our suppliers were on the same page as far as understanding what kind of product we need to meet the goals of our Seafood Procurement Policy.

One big surprise was how willing our vendors were to change with us. We’ve never had a procurement policy as strict as this one, but we found that suppliers are looking ahead at their futures as well. They are as interested as we are in doing the right thing to protect the oceans and the marine life that depend on them for survival.

Another surprise was that we only had to drop a few suppliers. We were afraid going into this initiative that we might have to abandon some long-standing relationships, but that wasn’t the case.

The few we did have to drop because their products just couldn’t be purchased under our Policy – a last resort – were very low-volume suppliers of specialty items.

One of the benefits of this program is that issues that were only whispered about are now front of mind among our employees and customers. It was an “out of sight, out of mind” type thing.”

We’ve heard about the issues affecting the world’s oceans, but may not have taken the risks all that seriously. As a result of this initiative, we’ve all become more aware of what is going on and we truly understand the issues fisheries deal with and how they’re engaged in doing the right thing.

There are still some challenges with some species, and educating the public about farm-raised salmon is one of the biggest ones. It’s a hot topic among consumers, and what they primarily hear is negative.

They’re not aware of all the good the farm-raised salmon industry has done to protect wild species. Salmon is one of the most sought-after seafood species in the world, and wild stocks can’t begin to cover the demand.

It’s a matter of increasing consumer awareness.

Implementing a holistic Responsible Seafood Program isn’t something you flip a switch on overnight. But overall, we’ve done a great job and achieved great success in a short time.

Hy-Vee’s Commitment to Responsible Choice Seafood doesn’t Stop at the Seafood Case; It Continues into Market Grille Restaurants

When dining out, the source of seafood entrees is always a gamble. Unless it’s specifically noted, there’s no way of knowing if the seafood was raised and caught using responsible methods.

logo1That’s not the case at Hy-Vee’s in-store, sit-down Market Grille restaurants, currently found at eight locations, but on tap at up to 50 stores in our Midwest market over the next three years.

The Responsible Choice initiative – Hy-Vee’s pledge to responsibly source all of its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee brand seafood by the end of 2015 – doesn’t end at the seafood case. The push is consistent throughout the company and the Market Grille restaurants are no exception.

So when diners order any of our entrees containing wild Alaska salmon (grilled and in Caesar salads), seared scallops, Ahi tuna or potato crusted cod, they do so with the confidence of knowing that other sea life wasn’t harmed when the fish was caught.

The menus at our Market Grille restaurants will change every 10 months, but what won’t change is our commitment to Responsible Choice seafood. You can find Responsible Choice items by looking for the circular logo.

If you’re not familiar with the Market Grille concept, they can be found in several of our stores. Hy-Vee also has one stand-alone Market Grille, located in the lovingly restored historic Hotel Charitone in Chariton, Hy-Vee’s longtime home.

The full-service Market Grille restaurants offer customers a sit-down dining experience with a wait staff and alcoholic beverages. In addition to Responsible Choice seafood, the menu includes steaks, half-pound handcrafted burgers, entrée salads, ribs and other smoked meats, pizza and other items prepared in an open kitchen.

What’s the Catch with Farm-Raised Seafood: Responsible Choice Farmed Seafood is Addressing Some of the Major Issues Affecting Sustainability

When we look at the sustainability of farm raised seafood at FishWise – Hy-Vee’s adviser in its Responsible Choice initiative to responsibly source its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015 – we assess five main criteria: data; pollution, habitat impacts, and chemical use; feed; escapes and disease transfer; and the source of the eggs/larvae.

Here’s a closer look at each:

    1. Data – the quality and relevance of available data:
      • Data poor operations are not sustainable. In some places where species are farmed, we don’t have data on the effluent, stocking density, and other sorts of parameters that can affect wild stocks and the health of the ocean.
    2. Pollution, habitat impacts, and chemical use – handling farm wastes to prevent pollution, minimizing damage to surrounding habitats during farm construction, and minimizing the use of chemicals:
      • Pollution from farms comes from discharging wastewater into the surrounding environment. If a farm treats or recirculates its water, the risks of polluting the environment is much lower than for farms that flush their ponds/cages regularly without filtering or treating it.
      • For habitat impacts, we consider what kind of habitat, if any, is damaged during farm construction. For example, farms that are built in ecologically valuable mangrove forests are not considered sustainable.
      • Some farms use chemicals to disinfect ponds, treat the water, prevent or control disease outbreaks, and a variety of other reasons. Farms that use a lot of chemicals can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment and can contribute to diseases becoming resistant. In some very egregious cases, we’ve found farms that use the same antibiotics that would be prescribed for a human ailment, diminishing the efficacy of those antibiotics for their intended purpose.
    3. Feed – Consumption of resources, such as wild fish and other proteins, in feeds for the production of farmed fish:
      • How much wild fish is being used in the feed for farmed fish depends on the species being grown.
      • Carnivorous species like salmon require a high amount of wild fish, while vegetarian fish like catfish and tilapia require little to no wild fish in the feed. Most sustainable of all species in this area are filter feeders like oysters and mussels, which do not require any feed.
      • A species like farmed salmon can take up to three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of salmon. Ideally, we want a one-to-one ratio or better.
      • The industry has strongly responded to concerns related to fish feed and we’ve seen a lot of improvement in this area.
    4. Escapes and disease transfer – risk of fish escaping from farms and risk of diseases from farmed fish spreading to wild stocks, negatively impacting wild ecosystems:
      • If farmed fish that escape into the wild thrive and become established in an area in which they had not lived prior to the farm, they become known as invasive species. Invasive species can have negative effects on native species by outcompeting them for resources (food, habitat, etc.).
      • Some invasive species can also interbreed with wild populations, reducing the biodiversity of the wild population and making the population more susceptible to diseases and other changes.
      • We’ve seen aquaculture operations responding to this concern with mitigation measures, such as covering pens with nets that prevent fish from escaping over the top of the pen during storm.
    5. Source of eggs/larvae – independence of eggs/larvae (seedstock) from wild fish stocks:
      • Some farming operations remove the eggs/larvae/juveniles from the wild population to grow, reducing the health of the wild stock.
      • For example, Bluefin tuna farmed in the Mediterranean Sea are actually raised from juveniles that are caught in the wild in a practice that is often called “ranching.” This depletes the wild stock since those fish will not have a chance to reproduce in the wild.

The most sustainable type of aquaculture is done in land-based, closed-containment systems that recirculate and clean the water. At FishWise, we’re all about closed-containment aquaculture systems, and the technology is improving to make these systems more affordable.

How Deep is our Commitment to Responsibly Sourced Seafood? The Answer is Found on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna

If you want to know how deep Hy-Vee’s commitment runs in its Responsible Choice seafood initiative, take a closer look at the fine print on Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna.

You’ll find guarantees there that you won’t find with major-label brands. Much of the canned tuna available on the market today is caught using industrial scale purse seines and longlines, which result in high levels of bycatch of non-target species, such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and other marine life.

That was a big concern for Hy-Vee, so we looked to FishWise to help us develop two private label lines that are making a huge difference.

Our new pole-and-line skipjack tuna and pole-and-troll albacore tuna are among the most progressive canned tuna offerings of any major retailer. The pole-and-line skipjack tuna, called ‘chunk light’ on the can, is especially impressive, given that the Monterey Bay Aquarium says it is the most sustainable option for any canned tuna.

The pole-and-troll albacore, called ‘solid or chunk white’ on the can, is sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries in the United States and New Zealand, and pole and troll are the two most selective albacore fishing methods, resulting in very little bycatch of non-target species.

This is a huge step forward in our sustainability program and our commitment to responsibly source all of our fresh and private label seafood by the end of 2015. For any retailer to do this is impressive, but it’s more so because Hy-Vee was able to pull this off in less than a year. It’s a matter of having the right suppliers, the right communication and a strong commitment to doing the right thing.

Also noteworthy: Hy-Vee’s private label products allow consumers to stretch their food dollars without sacrificing nutrition, taste or quality.

Hy-Vee Nets Prestigious National Recognition for Environmentally Responsible Seafood Ffforts

We did it! In the Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets report released last week by Greenpeace USA, Hy-Vee’s seafood sustainability efforts are ranked fifth among the country’s top 26 retailers. The report evaluates major U.S. retailers for the sustainability of their seafood in four key areas: policy, initiatives, labeling and transparency, and Red List inventory.

greenpeace

According to the report, “Hy-Vee’s remarkable entrance can be credited to the seafood team’s internal drive and proactive approach to seafood sustainability, coupled with corporate-level endorsement and confidence in its category staff.”

“We were surprised at how well Hy-Vee performed, by essentially rocketing to fifth place, which is a particularly impressive showing for a new entrant to the evaluations,” said James Mitchell, Greenpeace senior seafood campaigner.

Thank you to the Hy-Vee team who worked on this initiative, as well as our customers who support these efforts through purchasing responsible choice items. We could not have done this without each of you, and we look forward to continually improving our offerings in the future!

Copper River Salmon, the Best of the Alaskan Catch, is on Its Way to Select Markets

Salmon lovers, this is what you’ve been waiting for: highly prized fresh Copper River/Prince William Sound salmon will be available at select Hy-Vee stores starting May 21, signaling the beginning of the 2014 wild salmon season in Alaska.

From now through fall, Hy-Vee customers will find some of the best of the catch in the fresh seafood counter at selected stores. It’s all Responsible Choice, a strong start to our commitment to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015.

Because it’s from Alaska, where sustainability of the seafood industry – the state’s largest employer – is so important it’s written into the state Constitution, our customers also have the satisfaction of knowing that the salmon comes from the best managed fisheries in the world.

The Copper River salmon from Cordova, AK, has an intense taste that comes from the size of the Copper River, one of the largest rivers in the world, and its cold waters, and it is considered the best salmon on the market.

The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has done a fantastic marketing job. Alaska Airlines flies in the first ceremonial fish to Seattle, where some of the cities top executive chefs compete for the best salmon recipe in a now annual tradition known as the Copper Chef Cook-Off.

All that hype has made Copper River such a recognizable brand that out customers sometimes mistakenly refer to it as a species instead of a geographic area. There are three species of salmon in the Copper River District, and this year, it’s estimated that 1.60 million sockeye, 22,000 king salmon, and 280,000 Coho will be caught in the short, 4 to 6 week season.

Various factors can affect the total catch, including careful monitoring of the salmon run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Officials want to make sure enough salmon escape to make their return not only their natal river to spawn, but to the exact spot of their birth.

As the wild salmon season progresses, Hy-Vee’s customers will see various other species of salmon showing up in the seafood case. As more becomes available, prices will adjust accordingly.

Environmental Advocacy: We Can’t Just Kick the Can Down the Road on Bering Sea Canyons. We Must Protect Them Now.

As a leading provider of commercial seafood in the United States, Hy-Vee is taking a progressive approach on several key environmental advocacy initiatives that we expect will have a positive effect on the health of the oceans and the species that live and swim in them.

We have made a strong commitment to building a market for Responsible Choice seafood. This makes us an important stakeholder in discussions about how to best protect the health of ecosystems that harbor and nurture that seafood.

Here’s a recent example of how we’re using our sway:

Hy-Vee appealed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to approve protections for the Zhemchung and Pribilof canyons, which are carved into the Bering Sea shelf break, a unique ecoregion known as the Green Belt due to its extraordinary productivity.

The canyons contain abundant and diverse corals and sponges that provide valuable habitat for commercially important fish and other marine species. In many parts of the canyons, the deep sea corals can be over 1,000 years old. If stripped from the ocean floor or crushed by fishing gear, the corals are unlikely to will recover, creating a habitat deficit that is difficult if not impossible to regenerate.

Numerous fish and crab species depend upon canyon terrain for spawning and nursery areas, making these habitats important for sustaining species’ populations. Commercially important species that utilize the canyons for essential fish habitat include rockfish, Pacific cod, halibut, pollock and several species of crab.

Based on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assessment that said the geography, if not the habitat, of the canyons is unique and continuous study was warranted, the council decided on further study – the equivalent of kicking the can down the road.

Hy-Vee and a coalition of environmental groups and other stakeholders have taken the position that additional study isn’t the right tack. Protecting the canyons now is the equivalent of providing stakeholders with an insurance policy that can help preserve biodiversity as well as ensure the sustainability of fisheries and seafood supply.

Our leadership in advocacy on this issue may surprise some people. It’s as simple as this: we want to be able to offer our customers the species most impacted by non-sustainable management practices well into the future. If the experts we rely on urge more protection, we’re going to side with these approaches.

We can’t just protect one species at a time. We’ve made a commitment to other sea life and habitat, and one of the ways to accomplish this is to make sure all the species thrive.

Additional Resources