Letter: Safeway committed to sustainability
Editor’s note: The following is a letter to the editor submitted by Tobias Aguirre, executive director of FishWise in Santa Cruz, Calif. It is in response to the 11 April article “Safeway, Target top Greenpeace report.”
Whether you agree or disagree with Greenpeace’s approach to conservation and the latest edition of the retailer scorecard, it is clear that major retailers are making significant strides in becoming more environmentally responsible in their seafood operations. Safeway, with whom FishWise partnered in early 2010, was recently named as the most sustainable national grocer for seafood.
While much work remains to be done, Safeway’s commitment to the issue, on a variety of fronts, has been exemplary. Yes, they are doing this because it is the right thing to do and expected by Safeway customers, but also because it is good business. Without healthy and productive ocean ecosystems, and well-managed aquaculture operations, the seafood industry doesn’t have much of a future. Over the last few years, Safeway has taken steps to promote best practices in the seafood industry that have been recognized by both industry peers and NGOs.
Safeway has committed to transition all of its fresh and frozen seafood to sustainable and traceable sources, or for them to be in credible improvement projects, by 2015. We feel that this is the right timeline for Safeway, and other companies may take less or more time to do so. To accomplish this ambitious task, FishWise is working with Safeway, its suppliers, and other NGOs to support fishery improvement projects, like those run by WWF and SFP. The company has also supported the creation of rigorous standards for aquaculture through its partnership with FishWise. Our staff have participated in the pangasius, shrimp, freshwater trout, and salmon Aquaculture Dialogues, and have submitted comments to the GAA on various standards.
While we work to improve fisheries and aquaculture, we also acknowledge that certain species are in dire shape and need time to recover, which will come through increased awareness, progressive fisheries management, and leadership from the industry. Species like bluefin tuna, shark, billfish, and orange roughy are at historical lows. While the company has sold shark and orange roughy in the past, it doesn’t feel it appropriate to do so until the populations recover. In the case of toothfish, Safeway does sell the product, but only from the MSC certified South Georgia fishery. While there are concerns about this fishery as well, they demonstrate continued improvement in addressing those concerns, such as consistent stock assessments and resulting appropriate catch limits and significantly reducing seabird bycatch.
Ross Sea toothfish is a different situation, however. There are specific concerns about the fishery such as lack of population data and significant risk of IUU fishing, but on a larger level, is it really necessary to exploit the last largely pristine ocean ecosystem on earth? The company could source from the Ross Sea, just as it does from South Georgia, but chooses not to. Safeway states on its website, “An important part of being a responsible seafood business is to not only limit the impacts of where we are fishing, but to set aside areas where we are not. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are important to ensure the biodiversity and productivity of our oceans… We are helping to preserve one of the last pristine marine areas on earth, Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Safeway has pledged to not buy or sell toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) harvested from the Ross Sea and encourages Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) member countries to designate the entire Ross Sea as an MPA.”
Far from a cynical gesture, Safeway and FishWise both believe that we can do a better job of managing existing resources rather than rushing to exploit new ones that are little understood.
Together with this ambitious supplier engagement approach, Safeway is training all seafood staff on sustainability issues, educating its consumers, and committing to report on its progress. For these reasons, Safeway has been recognized by many as a leader in sustainable seafood.