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Sustainable Seafood Swims To A Big-Box Store Near You

It's no longer just Whole Foods shoppers seeking out certified, sustainable seafood.

Increasingly, those of us who shop the big-box retailers including Costco, Target and Walmart are finding a blue label on seafood packages. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label signifies that the seafood comes from a fishery that's met a rigorous set of standards aimed at promoting responsible, sustainable catches.

And if you don't see the MSC label in your grocery or favorite retailer? "Ask for it !" says Kerry Coughlin of the independent, global, non-profit Marine Stewardship Council. Though she acknowledges consumer recognition of the logo is just starting to take off.

The MSC program traces seafood from boat to plate (almost) working with fisheries, processors, distributors and retailers so that customers know where and how seafood was harvested. The goal is not only to ensure that fish is being harvested in a way that doesn't contribute to over-fishing, but also to make sure that it's labeled accurately, so consumers can trust what they see on the label.

I checked in with big retailers to see how their commitments to source from MSC certified fisheries are proceeding. Target told me that there have been lots of changes in their seafood selections.

Gone are unsustainable choices such as Chilean sea bass (which has an AVOID rating on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch). Target's grocery department is now carrying more than 50 MSC-certified or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)-certified fresh and frozen seafood products. The goal is to sell only sustainable and traceable seafood by 2015.

Target has eliminated farmed salmon from its stores due to concerns about environmental impacts, and wild-caught salmon are now available in all its stores nationwide. Target says it's also partnering with FishWise, another non-profit organization that works with seafood companies to implement environmentally responsible business practices.

"Partnering with FishWise allows Target to identify certified product choices, encourage source fisheries and farms to become certified and build a time line to reach our 2015 goal," Erin Madsen, a Target spokeswoman, explained to me in an email.

And how might these commitments influence our pocketbooks? Well, lots of factors influence the fluctuating prices of seafood. It's all about supply and demand. Currently, about 14 percent of global fisheries have gone through an MSC certification. It's possible that as retailers demand more sustainable fish, prices could rise if supplies are limited.

But Target says it's working to keep prices competitive. When Target announced the commitment to wild-caught salmon, Madsen says the retailer was able to source the salmon at the same price as farmed salmon.

And how about our nation's largest retailer? Walmart says as of January 2011, about 73 percent of all the fish they sell was certified as sustainable. And by June, of this year Walmart will require all suppliers of fresh and frozen seafood products to source from certified fisheries.

Beyond retailers, institutional food giant Sodexo has stepped up with a commitment to source sustainable fish and seafood in all countries where it operates by 2015. And as of last August, according to this release, Sodexo stopped serving seafood species which are identified as being at risk.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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