Costco switching to sustainable seafood

Consumer Reports News: March 12, 2011 09:08 AM

It hasn’t been all that easy to buy sustainably-caught seafood at your local supermarket, where labels on fresh or frozen fish often can be confusing.

But the fish counter may soon be less daunting. Last week, Costco announced that it would stop selling 12 species of fish that have been identified by environmental groups as being over-fished: Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, Greenland halibut, grouper, monkfish, orange roughy, redfish, shark, swordfish, skates, and rays. Other grocers have recently made similar changes or are planning them.

For example, last year Whole Foods began a color-coded rating system to help consumers select fish that are most sustainable. The rating system was devised with help from the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide. And Safeway will use signs—also based on the Aquarium’s guide—explaining which fish are best and why. The Aquarium’s pocket guide was recently updated to add Atlantic haddock, pollock, summer flounder and some Atlantic cod to the best choices list. And last year, Target stopped selling farmed salmon in favor of fresh-caught salmon.

Greenpeace, which has been pressuring grocers to make the changes, says in its annual seafood sustainability scorecard that half of the leading supermarket chains in the U.S. received passing scores for the first time.

Alaskan salmon, farmed clams, pink shrimp from Oregon, sardines from the U.S. Pacific, and tilapia farmed in the U.S. are abundant, well managed, and fished or farmed in ways that minimize harm to the environment, according to research conducted by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. And they’re also low in mercury, according to our recent report.

But if you see fish labeled “organic” don’t get hooked, because the label doesn’t mean much when applied to seafood, according to, a website run by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer reports and this website, that helps consumers identify environmentally-friendly products and practices

To help find the best choices, there’s a new free iPhone application offered by the Seafood Watch Program that lets you share the location of markets and restaurants nationwide where there’s ocean-friendly seafood. The Aquarium plans to release a version for Android phones later this year.

—Joyce H. Newman, Editor, Consumer Reports

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