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.

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.

Hy-Vee’s Meteoric Rise to No. 5 on Greenpeace Sustainability Survey: ‘This is the New Beginning; This is our Social Responsibility’

At Hy-Vee, we’ve just received some important validation in our efforts to become the industry leader in offering customers seafood only from responsibly managed fisheries:

In the Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets report issued by Greenpeace USA, Hy-Vee ranked fifth among the country’s top 26 retailers for sustainability efforts.

We were ranked in four key areas: policy, initiatives, labeling and transparency, and Red List inventory.

That’s a huge accomplishment that got the attention of James Mitchell, Greenpeace’s senior seafood campaigner: “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,” he said.

FishWise, Hy-Vee’s nonprofit partner in sustainability has been critical in helping us achieve a high score on Greenpeace’s survey. FishWise has very high standards and has been awesome to work with. Working with FishWise has encouraged us to look at issues scientifically and to be mindful of the environmental and social impacts of our practices. Sometimes NGOs can get a bad rap as anti-business, but this isn’t the case with FishWise.

They’ve helped us learn.

Hy-Vee’s CEO, Randy Edeker, also has been a driver in our success. He has basically circled the wagons, challenged us to ask critical questions about every aspect of our operations, and empowered us to make changes to become more sustainable. As a result, our procurement, distribution and operations divisions locked arms and said, in effect:

“This is the new beginning; this is our social responsibility.”

We’re extremely pleased and honored with this recognition. It represents both a commitment from our stores and Hy-Vee customers, who have sent a clear message they want seafood that is responsibly harvested and minimizes damage to the environment. Through our new efforts, we are providing our customers high quality seafood in accordance with the most stringent environmental standards in the food industry.

We wanted to score high on the Greenpeace survey, and hoped that we would. No. 5 is a great position for our first entry in the seafood survey, but we’re not satisfied. We want to be No. 1, whether that’s on the Greenpeace survey or any other measure of sustainability.

Read the full report: Carting Away the Oceans: 2014 Rankings of Seafood Sustainability in U.S. Supermarkets

What’s the Catch? Key Issues Affecting Seafood Sustainability

Four primary issues affect the sustainability of seafood, and Hy-Vee is paying close attention as part of the company’s efforts to responsibly source its fresh and private label frozen seafood products by the end of 2015.

One is no more important than another. If one of the issues gets out of balance, it can affect another.

1. Impacts on target stock – is the species being overfished? One example of a species that is being overfished is Bluefin tuna, which is called “toro” in fancy sushi restaurants. Hy-Vee doesn’t carry Bluefin tuna because of the many environmental issues associated with this fishery.

These days, the United States does a good job managing its fisheries and products from domestic fisheries usually meet Hy-Vee’s definition of responsible sourcing. But there have been problems in the past – with Atlantic cod, for example – and when fisheries are depleted, recovery takes a very long time because the fish are long-lived and don’t reproduce quickly. That means a long period where certain species are unavailable from the time the overfishing stops and the population rebounds.

One issue we’re seeing now is that as domestic stocks are recovering, international fisheries are being depleted.

2. Impacts on other species (bycatch) – how much bycatch is occurring and what non-target species are being caught accidentally? Some gear types like huge longlines indiscriminately catch endangered species like sea birds, sharks, and sea turtles, while some gear types are more selective and only catch one fish at a time.

In the conservation world, the incidental catch of large marine mammals like dolphins helped inspire people and catalyze a movement toward more awareness of the serious issues with fishing. That problem is less severe now, but bycatch is still a problem and we’re seeing issues with other species.

3. Habitat and ecosystem impacts – is the fishing gear affecting the surrounding habitat? Is the fishery removing all the top predators from the ecosystem and changing the dynamics of the marine community? Some gear types like trawl nets that drag along the seafloor can have a significant impact on ancient coral communities – some of them 1,000 years old or more – while some gear types like pole-and-line never come into contact with the bottom.

We have to be mindful that when we take away too many predators, the ecosystem can get out of balance and that can affect the habitat sea life needs to survive.

An example of this is found in kelp forests, where sea otters were hunted for their furs. With the predators gone, that allowed the sea urchins to invade and eat the kelp. The effects were felt throughout the ecosystem, as the kelp is important habitat not only for marine mammals like sea otters, sea lions, seals and grey whales, but also for many types of rockfish.

4. Management – are the rules regulating the fishery working? Most fisheries in the US are very well managed but some international fisheries have lax regulations, or no regulations at all. Illegal fishing can be a major problem in fisheries with poor management. Illegal fishing harms honest fishermen, weakens coastal communities, is associated with crime such as narcotraffic and human rights abuses, and undermines companies like Hy-Vee that are trying to do the right thing.

Assessing these four criteria gives FishWise an understanding of the wild fisheries supplying Hy-Vee’s seafood products, and whether those products qualify for one of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice labels. When Hy-Vee’s customers see the Responsible Choice label, they can be confident that the seafood they’re buying is not contributing to unhealthy oceans.

Key Takeaway from Seafood Expo in Boston: Sustainability is Expected, No Longer a Hot, In-Your-Face Topic

One of the greatest opportunities at the Seafood Expo North America (formerly the Boston Seafood Show) was found in the chance to talk face-to-face with the approximately 19,000 suppliers, processors and other professionals from around the world who attend this event.

Establishing that rapport makes the follow-up conversations much easier and more congenial.

For me, the key takeaway from the event in Boston is that sustainability isn’t the in-your-face, hot topic that it used to be. Everyone may not quite meet the same high standards that Hy-Vee and PDI have set with the Responsible Choice initiative, but everyone takes for granted that companies care about sustainability and are doing something about it. This is driven some by consumer demand, but primarily it’s due to competition for business between companies.

It was great to meet those domestic suppliers, the folks with boats on the water and processing plants, who are working directly with PDI and Hy-Vee to provide Alaskan King crab, wild salmon, because promotions around those species have been successful at bringing customers’ attention to Responsible Choice seafood.

At FishWise, we work with some of the better-acting companies and they are doing a great deal to advance conservation. These seafood suppliers from Alaska, who are leading the world in setting the standards for sustainability, appreciate that Hy-Vee is very direct about what its environmental standards are what companies need to provide for them.

They love that Hy-Vee does so much to draw attention to the way they do things. They know Hy-Vee appreciates quality. It’s kind of a mutual admiration society, which is rare.

At the expo, I also met with leaders of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, a certifying organization like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), to connect them with Hy-Vee and other distributors and help them better understand where the other is coming from. It’s a tough topic, because so many people are under the impression that farmed fish is not sustainable in any way, and we need to work to overcome that stereotype. The folks at GAA are very open to dialogue, and that will help to move it along.

Another prominent event during the Seafood Show was a panel discussion focused on improvement projects that companies like Hy-Vee and its vendors are supporting, like wild gulf shrimp. The shrimping industry can be dirty and have a lot of issues, yet customers want shrimp. Hy-Vee is doing the right thing by supporting practices that reduce turtle bycatch. The vendor Hy-Vee works with is making sure there’s a smaller amount of turtle bycatch in its fisheries.

Steps to Success: FishWise Partnership with Hy-Vee

Hy-Vee’s overall goal for their seafood includes protecting the health of their customers and the environment while providing the best quality and selection of seafood. To help realize the environmental component of this goal, Hy-Vee partnered with FishWise in 2011. FishWise is a non-profit seafood consultancy that works with retailers and other members of the seafood industry to promote the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally responsible business practices. We have over a decade of experience developing and implementing sustainable seafood programs and our partners are recognized as industry leaders.

FishWise first began in 2002 out of concern for the serious issues facing the ocean and with the intention of enabling seafood businesses to support sustainability via responsible sourcing and customer education. Resource depletion, overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and government mismanagement are only a few of the numerous threats facing ocean ecosystems today, and purchasing responsibly produced seafood can be a challenge. Fortunately, responsible options do exist and FishWise wants to help businesses like Hy-Vee source from these environmentally conscious suppliers, who are working to preserve seafood for future generations.

FishWise started working with Hy-Vee by helping the company develop their Seafood Procurement Policy, which acts as the foundation of their Responsible Seafood Program. After the Policy was implemented, FishWise began the ongoing process of researching products and communicating with Hy-Vee’s seafood buyers to make sourcing improvements. FishWise then consulted with Hy-Vee to develop the Responsible Choice point-of-sale materials and staff training program that will help Hy-Vee educate its customers about its responsibly sourced seafood.

Now we are entering an exciting phase in the Hy-Vee – FishWise partnership where the Responsible Seafood Program is being unveiled to customers. Next time you visit a Hy-Vee store, stop by the seafood department to take a look at the new Responsible Choice labels on products that meet the company’s Procurement Policy and have a conversation with Hy-Vee’s knowledgeable and friendly seafood staff.

Hy-Vee’s journey toward sustainability is not over, but as a result of the company’s willingness to make big changes and partner with FishWise, Hy-Vee has established itself as a leader in the industry and a destination for sustainable seafood.

Sustainable Business 101: Why Use Industry Leading Sustainable Seafood Practices?

Right now, certain types of seafood are overfished or harvested in a way that causes undue stress to the environment and other sea life. At Hy-Vee, we believe retailers need to step up and take care of the planet, take care of its ecosystems and leave them better than we found them.

That’s what we’re doing with our Responsible Sourcing Commitment in our Seafood Procurement Policy. Our aim with the new policy is for Hy-Vee to be an unquestioned destination for sustainable seafood and, by the end of 2015, all of our high-quality fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood will be responsibly sourced.

We don’t want our legacy to be that we didn’t respect the environment. Instead, Hy-Vee wants to be a leader in this arena and inspire other companies. The end goal is for everyone to get there. Hopefully, we can be one of those companies that can guide the entire industry towards sustainability.

This is a journey we’re on with our suppliers. We’re doing this to help them get better. To get there together, we’ve developed our commitment to Responsible Choice seafood procurement with FishWise, a non-profit group that supports sustainability through environmentally responsible business partners.

When consumers see the Responsible Choice label, they can be assured that they are buying seafood that is rated “green” (best choice) or “yellow” (a good alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. These ratings are derived from scientific and peer reviewed assessments that analyze the effects the fishery or fish farm has on the environment and other species.

Couple that with Hy-Vee’s commitment to the best and freshest goods, and the Responsible Choice labeling gives our customers complete confidence that what they buy is supporting the health of their families and that of the oceans.

We want customers to know that it’s where we say it’s from, it’s the freshest they can get, that there is integrity behind it, and that it’s our mission to do business in a way that promotes the well-being of our customers, employees, communities and the global environment.