Ensuring sustainable and traceable seafood supply chain is a continuous work in progress, and some grocery chains are leading the way in their initiatives.

For example, Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold Delhaize USA, which operates more than 2,000 food stores and distribution centers nationwide, is now utilizing sustainably-sourced seafood across all of its retailers’ seafood products.

In 2018, the retailer began a comprehensive initiative in partnership with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to vet and audit all seafood products – whether they were private brand or national brand – on a continuous basis to “ensure they meet Ahold Delhaize USA companies’ rigorous sustainable seafood policy,” said Mark Eastham, sustainable products lead for Ahold Delhaize USA.

Now, Ahold and GMRI have assessed more than 3,000 products, according to Eastman.

“The companies of Ahold Delhaize USA have strong commitments to enabling greater transparency because we believe consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and that it contains ingredients they trust,” Eastman said.

While the company’s sustainable seafood efforts first focused on its private brand assortment, they have now expanded to ensure that the full seafood assortment sold by each of its U.S. brands — whether national or private label — are in compliance with “our comprehensive sustainable sourcing policy,” Eastman noted. “Each brand continuously reviews its policies and procedures to ensure it can provide seafood that customers feel good about buying.”

Recent sustainable seafood sourcing initiatives from its brands include Stop & Shop carrying Best Aquaculture Practices-certified sashimi grade, frozen farm-raised Coho salmon, “which has resonated well with their customers, providing a great value for the quality of fish,” according to Eastman. In addition, the supermarket chain is looking to expand its local sourcing as their “Fresh Catch” program has become a focal point in the service case, he said.

Meanwhile, Giant Food offers wild blue catfish via a partnership with local commercial fishermen.

“Native to the Mississippi River, blue catfish are considered an invasive species to the Chesapeake Bay. Left unchecked without natural predators, blue catfish population growth presents major issues for the Bay and its local species,” Eastman said.

The local fishermen use methods like haul seines that allow fish to be captured alive and any unwanted species returned to the bay unscathed, according to Eastman.

“Giant Food customers reacted positively to the local and sustainable wild catfish offering,” he said. “It’s now an everyday offering at all Giant Food stores.”

As part of the GMRI initiative, suppliers must provide information on each product, including how and where fish were caught or farmed, and whether the fish is sourced from a fishery or farm that is certified to a Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative-benchmarked standard, engaged in a fishery improvement project, or assessed as low risk by GMRI.

“Ahold Delhaize USA has demonstrated great leadership with their approach to seafood sustainability. Their sustainable seafood policy is comprehensive in its scope, including all fresh, frozen, and canned seafood, and they implement strict traceability requirements of suppliers to ensure they know where their seafood is coming from,” GMRI Senior Program Manager Kyle Foley said.

To “continuously improve the ways in which we address traceability,” Ahold Delhaize USA works with suppliers on an ongoing basis to track and monitor where seafood is coming from, leveraging internal reporting processes and tools like Trace Register, according to Eastman. Through ADUSA companies’ relationship with the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP), a global platform where retailers voluntarily share insight into their sourcing methods to ensure sustainable seafood practices, another layer of traceability is added.

“For ADUSA brands, this means that the original sources of all own brand, wild-caught seafood are available to the public.”

Tracking every vessel

Another notable traceability program is from West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee and its wholly-owned distribution subsidiary, Perishable Distributors of Iowa. They disclosed a complete list of fishing vessels that supply its fresh, frozen, and canned private-label tuna, FishWise said in a news release last June.

FishWise released its tuna vessel list report as of April 2022. After FishWise and Hy-Vee cross-referenced each vessel name with the ISSF Proactive Vessel Register, regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) vessel lists, RFMO IUU vessel lists, the FishWise labor allegations list, and the Global Fishing Watch database, FishWise and Hy-Vee “were unable to identify any vessels directly associated with human rights and/or labor rights concerns,” they said.

“While this is not a guarantee that vessels supplying Hy-Vee with private-label tuna are completely free of these concerns, it is a satisfactory finding that all longline and purse-seine vessels were able to be publicly identified and cross referenced with vessel blacklists,” they said.

Hy-Vee is “committed to providing our customers with seafood that is environmentally sustainable, from legal sources, and produced and processed under fair labor conditions,” Hy-Vee Vice President of Meat and Seafood Jason Pride said. “This means working closely with our partners at FishWise and our suppliers to proactively identify and mitigate risks in our seafood sourcing.”

Meanwhile, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, which partners with the ODP, Sustainable Fisheries Project (SFP), and other organizations on sustainability and traceability efforts, is working on a project that will automate the COOL process for its stores by a scan of a BAR code applied to the shipping unit by its suppliers, said Guy Pizzuti, business development director of seafood at Publix.

“In addition to the required COOL information, this scan will allow us to capture a number of other attributes that are important to traceability.”

Publix donated $40,000 to the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership last year and announced in a new release its “enhanced commitment to marine life conservation by collaborating with SFP to analyze and understand current fishing practices within the supply chain.”

Publix and SFP have collaborated since 2009 — and Publix has donated a total of $480,000 — to support fishery and aquaculture improvement projects and other efforts to advance the sustainability of seafood.

“It’s a priority to Publix to source from healthy, well-managed fisheries,” Pizzuti said. “We look forward to continuing to work with SFP and across the seafood industry to address unintended catch of endangered, threatened and protected species.”

In fact, Publix was the first U.S. retailer to join with SFP, BirdLife International, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation to review and understand the risks from the unintended catch of ocean wildlife in the seafood sourcing supply chain.

Its biggest effort in addressing unintended catch is expanding support for the testing of ropeless trap technology, Pizzuti said.

“To our efforts in the Canadian Snow Crab FIP, we recently donated enough gear to the NOAA Ropeless Trap Gear Library to outfit six boats with the ropeless traps in the US lobster fleet,” Pizzuti said. Publix also provided a donation to install electronic monitoring on five vessels operating in the Costa Rican Mahi FIP.

“We will continue to engage our suppliers to participate and actively drive improvements to limit the gear interaction with endangered, threatened, and protected species,” Pizzuti said.

Nearly all (98.75%) of Publix’s seafood volume meets the requirements of sustainably or responsibly sourced as laid out with its Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) and SFP programs.

Many retailers are also having success with internal tools that help them create a strategy across the entire supply chain, Jennifer Bushman, chief marketing officer for sustainable Norway-based ocean net pen farming supplier Kvaroy. For example, Where Food Comes From, which is utilized by Heinen’s and other major grocers, provides unbiased assessments on products via their own team of verification specialists and independent auditors that are trained to question, verify, and analyze various requirements set forth by a Standard such as Non-GMO, Certified Organic or Fair Trade Certified, according to Bushman.

Pizzuti and Bushman explain that retailers need to be willing to work with fishermen in various parts of the world on fishery improvement projects (FIPs) over the long-term.

“Sustainability is not a one size fits all. Each region of the world, their needs, their challenges and their limitations have to be respected and considered,” Bushman said. “The solutions must come from the communities where the fish and seafood comes from in order for these programs to really take hold. That means robust private/public partnerships that begins with dialogue and grows from there.”