Major US restaurant chains cease buying Russian seafood

Published on
March 8, 2022
A large King crab on a silver plate.

Several major U.S. seafood restaurant chains have ceased buying seafood from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, an act of aggression that has had significant ripple-effects across the global seafood industry.

Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.-based Red Lobster has promised not to buy any products from Russia or of Russian origin, a spokesperson told SeafoodSource.

“We will be complying with any and all existing and new sanctions laws related to Russia,” the spokesperson said.

The chain had already begun transitioning out of pollock in mid-2021 and fully transitioned out as part of a national menu update in December 2021, according to the spokesperson.

“We transitioned out of pollock to flounder because the flounder was a better-quality product that historically received better guest scores than what we were seeing on pollock,” the Red Lobster spokesperson said.

Similarly, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based PPX Hospitality Brands said it will not purchase any seafood from Russia across all three of its restaurant brands: Legal Sea Foods, Smith & Wollensky, and Strega Italiano. Instead, the restaurant conglomerate will continue to center its sourcing on local options, PPX Chief Marketing Officer Kim Giguere-Lapine told SeafoodSource.

“Locally sourced, responsibly produced, and American-made are tenets we feel strongly about and follow whenever possible, and we partner with suppliers and producers who share these common values,” Giguere-Lapine said.

The pollock PPX purchases “has and will continue to be locally sourced from the Gulf of Maine, landed here in Boston, much like most of our fresh fish – a practice we fully intend to continue as the cornerstone of our commitment to quality and freshness,” Giguere-Lapine said.

The U.S. government has not yet instituted a prohibition on buying seafood from Russia, though it has instituted a broad swathe of economic sanctions and on Tuesday, 8 March, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on all imports of Russia oil, gas, and other forms of energy. An effort by Alaska’s two U.S. senators to ban Russian seafood imports was introduced in February 2022 but has not advanced.

Most U.S. supermarket chains have not released public statements on whether or not they support sanctions on Russian seafood or other products, though across the U.S., restaurant chains and food and beverage brands are facing public pressure to pull business out of Russia. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and other major food and drink manufacturers are under mounting pressure to pull out of Russia or face consumer boycotts, according to The Guardian.

The Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative is calling on its elected officials to “immediately sanction Russian fish exports into the U.S.,” the organization said in a press release.

Massachusetts processors handle about USD 2 million (EUR 1.8 million) worth of processing of pollock from Russia, Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative Executive Director Mark E. DeCristoforo told SeafoodSource. Last year, the U.S. imported USD 4 billion (EUR 3.7 billion) of Russian fish for processing, which “led directly to jobs and paychecks for hardworking Bay Staters,” the organization said.

“The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has forced our industry – and our nation – to decide between our ideals and our wallets. Let us not forget, Massachusetts was the cradle of our own fight for independence against an imperial power, therefore, to do anything other than stand in solidarity with the courageous Ukrainian people would be to betray our values. We are proud to do our small part in combating evil and aggression and to stand with Ukraine,” it said. “We are willing to sacrifice our own economic interests for the interests of a people under siege.”

While it’s a relatively minor part of Massachusetts’ suppliers’ business, ending the processing of Russian imports will still have a financial impact, DeCristoforo said.

DeCristoforo predicted big-box grocery chains, rather than restaurants, will bear the brunt of the potential ban on Russian seafood if enacted.

“The majority of our king crab [sold in grocery stores] comes from there,” he said. “Most restaurants that serve it are not serving Russian king crab; They are using Alaskan king crab.”

Photo courtesy of WhiteFox52/Shutterstock

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