Exploring the New Fish Counter at Whole Foods

By Toni Waterman

May 23, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Line up at a Whole Foods fish counter these days and you might notice something missing …
Whole Foods has become the first national grocer to stop selling “red-rated” fish. The designation means the species is overfished or caught in a way that harms other marine life.
Whole Foods seafood coordinator Matt Mello rattled off the list of local losses: “Grey sole, octopus, Atlantic cod and halibut.”
> > What's a "red-rated" fish? Check the SeafoodWatch guide.
The demand for fish
Mello said this is the latest step in Whole Foods' long commitment to ocean conservation.
“There’s been a timeline in our seafood departments, such as the lobsters — moving away from the lobsters,” said Mello. “We were the first retailer to come out with a rating system. Now we’re the first retailer to stop selling red rated fish.”
The first, but not the only: BJ’s and Target have made similar commitments. And the trend has only picked up steam after the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 80 percent of fisheries were fully exploited, overfished or recovering from depletion.
“I always say: if you enjoy the ocean and you want it here for future generations, and you want the bounty that the ocean provides for future generations, you really should care,” said Mello.
It’s something avid fish consumer Terry Drucker cares about. He said he wouldn’tgo to another supermarket if Whole Foods stopped selling certain fish.
“I guess if they’re pulling it, I’d guess there’d be a good reason for that and I’d try to avoid it — like I didn’t eat swordfish for a long time when I thought they were endangered,” he said.
The supply side
But Gloucester fisherman Russell Sherman wasn’t taking the bait.

“This is a corporate move out of Texas. And to me, it’s basically pandering to their customers,” he said.
Sherman has been fishing the waters off Gloucester for 41 years. And he’s been selling his catch to Whole Foods for the past 6 years.  He thought Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling “unsustainable” fish was nothing more than a marketing scheme.
“The government has just issued a statement where five more stocks have become sustainable. And I believe that all of our stocks are on the upward trend,” said Sherman.
Sherman said sustainability is at the forefront of every fisher’s mind, because fish are their livelihood. Plus, he said the U.S. already has the most stringent fishing regulations in the world.  
“I think Whole Foods should hold our industry up as a model to the world. We believe in sustainability,” said Sherman. “Each one of us are small businessmen, small entrepreneurs, who depend on the ocean. And I believe that we are the real conservationists in the world.”
The checkout line
Since launching the program on Earth Day, Whole Foods has pulled more than a dozen species fish nationwide. Those fish include sturgeon, turbot, some rockfish and swordfish and tuna from certain fisheries.  
Four types are missing from the colorful fish displays locally: trawl-caught Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, octopus and grey sole. But Mello said most can be easily substituted.
“Something like grey sole, we’ll get a lot of requests for, so we have a wide variety of fish, different types of sole. One of the types we offer is Pacific Dover sole. Comes from the West Coast and we’ll offer that,” he said.


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