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The state of sustainable seafood

We all know sustainable seafood is more than just a buzzword these days -- how are grocers, CPG producers and restaurants tackling the issue?

5 min read

Food Retail

The state of sustainable seafood


Sustainable seafood sourcing is growing in importance throughout the food industry. More consumers than ever are demanding it, and more companies are setting goals and undertaking initiatives to ensure sustainable practices for catching and farming seafood of all stripes.

Third-party organizations are leading the way with certification for fisheries and corresponding labels for seafood products, with the Marine Stewardship Council reporting that more than 17% of global wild marine catch is certified by the organization, which represents 400 fisheries worldwide. Best Aquaculture Practices and Aquaculture Stewardship Council are among the other organizations helping fisheries, restaurants and grocers move forward with sustainability.

These certifying bodies, consumers and food industry heavyweights are indeed embracing the need for change in the seafood industry. In fact, the James Beard Foundation partnered with the Walton Family Foundation earlier this year on a campaign encouraging restaurant diners and supermarket patrons to ask about sustainable seafood and voice their desire for sustainable options.

With consumer demand for seafood inching higher each year, the time is ripe to evaluate how seafood is being caught and sourced. To that end, how are food retailers, producers and restaurants doing their part to ensure a sustainable future for seafood?

Catering to consumers

While only 22% of grocery shoppers say sustainability is important when purchasing seafood, it has become a hot topic in the industry in recent years, according to FMI’s 2020 Power of Seafood report. “We’re seeing a majority of folks hungry for information about seafood in general, and a majority want to be more knowledgeable about seafood sustainability,” said FMI Director of Research Steve Markenson during a recent webinar.

Similarly in the restaurant space, many chefs believe deeply in the positive environmental impact of serving sustainable seafood and also believe diners are increasingly more willing to pay a premium for these options.

“I truly care about sourcing ingredients and especially seafood in a sustainable manner to ensure future populations of chefs and diners have access to the same ingredients that I have,” Nathan Gould, chef de cuisine at O Ya in Boston and owner and chef at Martha’s Vineyard Smokehouse, told Forbes. Gould also believes proper certification helps ensure continued variety of fish.

“A large majority of American consumers are willing to pay more for seafood that is certified as sustainably and responsibly sourced,” wrote chef Thomas Card for FSR magazine. “Additionally, consumers agree that it is essential to protect the ocean’s resources for future generations.”

Making sustainable moves

Grocers have been making the move to sustainable seafood for several years, with many big players taking on major initiatives. Albertsons recently announced that more than 100 of its own brand seafood products will now bear the Responsible Choice logo for sustainable sourcing, and Walmart’s Great Value canned tuna will now be sourced exclusively from suppliers that are Marine Stewardship Council-certified.

Ahold Delhaize’s Giant Food grocery banner recently joined the Ocean Disclosure Project in an effort to support transparency in the seafood supply chain.

“We want shoppers to be able to trust that when they purchase any seafood product from Giant, that it is coming from a verified source,” said Ira Kress, Giant Food president, in a news release. “Participating in the ODP represents our assurance to total transparency and being able to offer products that are in line with our commitment to sustainable sourcing throughout every department of the store.”

Many food producers are also taking steps toward sustainability. Bumble Bee Seafoods, for example, plans to have all of its branded seafood recognized as sustainable, or on the way to certification, by a third-party organization in the next five years.

Chefs Yoni Lang and Jeff Miller, who recently opened Rosella sushi restaurant in New York City, have put a major focus on serving sustainable seafood to their patrons. “The sustainability aspect is more about a refusal to serve products that are destructive to the environment,” Miller told Eater New York. “It has opened up a new world of fish, flavors, and products for us, and there’s just no going back now.”

For restaurants still looking to increase their seafood sustainability, the National Restaurant Association offers a guide, as well as videos, to help them better understand the seafood supply chain and take actionable steps toward making sure their products are sustainable. Additionally, the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program provides training and assistance to chefs who want to abide by sustainable practices.

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