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Costco Steps Up Sustainable Seafood Policy

Words by Dave Best

By Dave Best

In a “stunning win for the oceans,” Costco recently stepped up its Sustainable Seafood policies. Improving on voluntary changes announced last August, Costco issued its Seafood and Sustainability Report agreeing to stop selling 12 red-listed varieties of fish.

Unless its sources are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), self-described as “the world’s leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood,” Costco will not resume sales of these 12 varieties. Additionally, Costco highlighted their association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to identify sustainable fisheries for certain at-risk species.

The 12 wild specifies identified as being at great risk (on the Greenpeace Red Fish list) that Costco agreed to stop selling are:

Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, Greenland halibut, grouper, monkfish, orange roughy, redfish, shark, skates and rays, swordfish, and bluefin tuna.

Fish that land on the Greenpeace International Seafood Red List have a very high risk if being sourced from unsustainable fisheries or unsustainable aquaculture operations. The key problems with the fisheries that catch these species include  destructive fishing methods, overfishing, unselective fishing methods, and pirate fishing.

Chilean seabass, for example, is one of the most sought-after fish in the world. Also called the Patagonian toothfish, as demand outstrips supply, it could become commercially extinct in less than five years.

Costco’s announcement comes after Greenpeace waged a lengthy campaign to encourage Costco to “stop destroying the oceans through its seafood purchasing practices.” In what became an eight month ongoing dialogue, Costco connected with environmental activists and its own customers on how to protect precious ocean resources.

Costco will continue to sell farmed fish and seafood -  Atlantic salmon and tilapia being two top sellers. According to Treehugger, tilapia is “one of the original aquaculture success stories.” Farmed in large tanks, tilapia is known as the “aquatic chicken” as they grow quickly with low-quality inputs.

Costco operates 582 warehouse locations worldwide, with 425 in the US, serving 60.8 million cardholders. Costco generated $77.9 billion in revenues and employs 107,200 in the US and 150,000 worldwide. In the US there are three membership options which are Business, Gold Star and Executive. Costco is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol COST.

Costco is taking positive steps in its Sustainable Seafood policies removing the 12 red-list fish from its shelves. Focusing in on how the fish it sells are caught is very important as a market leader. What I would like to see as its next step, would be to improve the transparency of its seafood labeling at point of sale. An educated Costco member would be empowered to make informed seafood purchases.

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