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Publix hires conservation group to assess its seafood products

Publix Super Markets Inc. has hired a nonprofit fisheries conservation group to assess all the seafood products it carries from the standpoint of species sustainability.

The Lakeland chain, which just flunked Greenpeace's seafood sustainability ratings for grocers for a second year, has hired the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership to develop ratings of more than 300 items it stocks, from fresh to frozen to canned seafood products. The assessment includes seafood caught in the wild or fish farms that often have their own sustainability issues.

Publix, which has been publicly silent on its sustainable seafood effort, expects to make some decisions on how to use the assessments by late summer.

With 83 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. imported, pinpointing overfished or unhealthy breeding grounds is complex. Complicating things for mass-market grocers: big sellers like grouper, Chilean sea bass and many types of salmon make lists of unsustainable seafoods to avoid. For more information, see montereybayaquarium.org/cr/ seafoodwatch.aspx.

Options on the table at Publix run from starting to label eco-friendly seafood products in stores to dropping species or vendors unwilling to find ways to improve supply.

The assessments are based on the condition of the species, health of the fishery and supply chain for types of fish products, not vendors, said Kathryn Novak, program manager for Sustainable Fisheries.

The decisions will be based on maintaining a flow of "quality seafood" using sustainable practices at what customers consider a value price, said Shannon Patten, Publix spokeswoman.

The chain revealed it has been working for three years to develop a seafood program that addresses sustainability. The chain already carries many products that qualify for eco-labeling. It also said it is working with the Maritime Stewardship Council and the Ocean Conservancy to perfect a strategy.

"We think it's a real sign of progress, along with the fact half the supermarkets in the U.S. got improved ratings from us this time," said Casson Trenor, who heads the Greenpeace sustainable seafood campaign, which issues the only rating of U.S. supermarket policies, practices and strategies. The most recent report can be downloaded at greenpeace.org/usa.

This year most Tampa Bay supermarkets improved to passing grades, including Target, Whole Foods, Sweetbay and Walmart, in descending order. Aldi, Costco and Save-a-Lot flunked. Rated even worse are Winn-Dixie and Publix, which came in 17th and 18th among 20 grocery chains rated nationally.

Greenpeace had to rate Publix, Aldi, Costco and Winn-Dixie based on shopping the stores and knowing the conditions of species harvested from more than 1,000 fishing grounds. That's because the chains declined to share their efforts.

"The only response we ever get from Publix is snarky e-mails that they don't respond to special-interest groups," said Greenpeace's Trenor.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Publix hires conservation group to assess its seafood products 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 9:03pm]
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