Monday, March 1, 2010

Sustainable seafood far from the sea?

Is it possible to get sustainable seafood here in central New York?  To begin answering this question, I turned to Wegmans, the store here with the biggest selection of fish and seafood.

So is fish from Wegmans sustainable?  According to a Wegmans consumer affairs representative, all the fish in the fresh fish case is sustainable, and the store maintains a web page explaining their seafood sourcing philosophy, a seafood product chart, and their "Take Marlin off the Menu" pledge. (An aside: I used to shop at a store that used red, yellow, and green dots on their fish to denote which were sustainable, borderline, or not -- which made me wonder why they were carrying any fish with the red dots?!)

By email, I asked the Wegmans Consumer Affairs department a few questions, which I've recapped here:

Ithaca's Food Web: I've known about the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch sustainable suggestions for quite some time -- I was wondering why your product list uses verification by other organizations?

Wegmans responds: "The Monterey Bay Aquarium does very good work in the area of sustainability. However we have found it is in the best interest of our suppliers, our customers, and our own business to work with organizations that are in the seafood business. By doing this we are able to work closely with our suppliers as well as the certifiers to be sure the decisions made are based on science and business."

IFW: I noticed a few differences -- like Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests avoiding all Chilean Sea Bass, whereas your verifier allows it from the Falkland Islands.

Wegmans: "While it is true that Chilean Sea Bass is a fish at risk, the fishery in the Falkland Islands has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as being managed sustainably. We do not offer Sea Bass from any other fishery – if our supply of MSC certified sea bass runs out, we simply do not offer the product until the fishery is able to provide more inventory. By offering MSC-certified sea bass we are able to provide our customers with a fish they desire and be responsible in our sourcing at the same time."

IFW: Does your product list only apply to fresh fish and seafood listed? 

Wegmans: "No. We offer many more products in our stores, some of which are not currently facing sustainability concerns. The list simply shows the products available in our stores that have been certified sustainable."

IFW: Do you ever sell non-color-enhanced salmon? 

Wegmans: "A few years ago we offered salmon that had not received feed containing astaxanthin or cantaxanthin. However because of the natural grayish color our customers were not excited by the product. The sales results did not justify carrying the product in our stores."

IFW: Considering the increased popularity of buying meat in bulk (eg buying a 1/4 cow, or half a lamb, from local farms), I was wondering if you offer any bulk purchasing of fish? 

Wegmans: "We offer some frozen fish in our Club Pack packaging. This allows our customers the benefit of quantity discounts."

Update (3/3/2010):

In response to reader comments, I delved a bit deeper into the question about farmed salmon at Wegmans. Farmed Atlantic salmon is considered a "worst choice" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch because:
-wild Altantic salmon is on the US endangered species list
-Atlantic salmon farms are are usually large-scale, densely stocked netpens that pollute surrounding waters with waste and chemicals.
-Farmed fish can escape and compete with wild fish for resources, breed with wild fish (changing their genetics), or spread parasites to wild fish.
-health-wise, farmed Atlantic salmon has high levels of harmful PCB chemicals.

Since 2006, Wegmans has been working with the Environmental Defense Fund to promote better salmon farming practices, such as integrating salmon and mollusk farming to recycle fish wastes and not farming genetically modified salmon.  Wegmans is expanding this effort to other types of farmed seafood as well.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Great post!
    I struggle with the question of sustainable seafood on a weekly basis, usually at the Wegman's counter. I had no idea they even HAD a sustainability policy, since they always have selections I have been told to stay away from (swordfish, farmed salmon, etc.). I will research their offerings more thoroughly now, seeing as they are making an effort to source them from sustainable farms and fisheries and working with EDF (a really thorough, science-centric organization), but I'm not sold yet.

  2. Thanks for this post. I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch as a buying guide, and I, too, have seen "off limits" choices at Wegmans (mainly farm-raised salmon and non-U.S. shrimp). I'm new to the idea of sustainable seafood. Can someone explain how farm-raised salmon can be part of a sustainable seafood policy? Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the comments, Merry and Anonymous. Great question about farm-raised salmon. I'm on it... will get back to you with their response...

  4. Okay, I added some info and links -- looks like they only buy farmed salmon from suppliers that follow certain rules. I think that this only applies to the fresh fish case, but I'm waiting to hear from Wegmans to confirm that.

  5. Hello,
    I wanted to write to thank you for your efforts in making people more aware of the issues regarding sustainable seafood. I work with Australis Aquaculture, the Massachusetts-based company that is popularizing the introduction of Barramundi fish here in the US.

    I was actually in your neck of the woods this week at the Cornell Cooperative - Nutrition Concerns Conference in Albany. We sampled our barramundi fish to hundreds of RD's & nutritionists, and they loved it not only for its delicious, mild flavor, but also for its health benefits (it has omega-3 levels comparable to wild coho salmon, which is virtually unheard of for a white, flakey fish).

    Australis has developed and implemented sustainable farming methods that have been recognized by major environmental groups and earned us the coveted ‘Seafood Champion Award’. We never use antibiotics, hormones, or additives, and our fish are independently tested to assure they’re free of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants.

    Dr. Oz recently named Barramundi Fish a Top Superfood to Eat Now for the health benefits I mentioned - check out the video on You Tube at:

    If you're interested in trying this delicious & sustainable fish, you can find it in the frozen seafood aisle at Price Chopper stores in your area. We've been in Wegman's off an on, so I would encourage you to ask the seafood manager at your local Wegman's to start carrying it again!

    You can find more locations, recipes and information on our website:

    Thanks again for generating more awareness on this important issue and bon appétit!

    Kelsie Guerriero
    Australis Aquaculture