NEW YORK — FreshDirect here has recently become the first online grocer in the U.S. to offer certified-sustainable fish.
The fish is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent, global, nonprofit organization that has worked for two years to develop its Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing, which outline environmental and production standards for sustainable, well-managed fisheries. Through the MSC, FreshDirect now carries certified-sustainable Alaskan coho salmon, Alaskan king salmon, Alaskan sockeye salmon, Pacific halibut and Pacific black cod.
“We felt a need to do this from our customers inquiring about sustainable fish — they have said that they don't want to eat something that has population issues, and, really, the best fit is the MSC [program],” said Justin Hawryluk, seafood buyer for FreshDirect. “In my opinion, there isn't any other certifying body or authority on sustainable seafood. I think they're the most respectable name in sustainability.”
FreshDirect approached the MSC at the International Boston Seafood Show about a year ago, according to Phil Fitzpatrick, commercial director for North and South America, Marine Stewardship Council, Seattle.
“This came as a result of meeting with the senior management. They were already interested in the sustainability of all of their items, so our program fits well with their mission, and I think that they realize that consumers are becoming more and more aware that they need to be buying responsibly and from more sustainable resources,” Fitzpatrick said.
FreshDirect plans to add more certified-sustainable species in the future, but wants to see how the current five species work first, Hawryluk said.
“I think that comes down to what the customer wants,” he said, when asked if FreshDirect had plans to carry only sustainable fish. “The reason why we sell anything is demand, and then we supply it. So if customers find that they only want sustainable seafood, then that's going to be the direction that the industry is pushed toward.”
Currently, FreshDirect carries both sustainable and non-sustainable fish.
To earn MSC certification, FreshDirect had to achieve “Chain of Custody,” which starts with making sure its fisheries meet criteria verified by science-based, independent, third-party auditors. “We had to get our whole processing room certified and all of our processes in place to ensure an unbroken chain of custody so there is low risk of giving customers the wrong product,” Hawryluk said.
Achieving “Chain of Custody” indicates FreshDirect's business practices guarantee sustainable seafood authenticity, from certified-sustainable fisheries, certified boats, certified vendors and a certified processing room.
“A lot of consumers want to be assured that what they're buying is what it says it is and that it comes from a certifiable source,” Fitzpatrick said. “That's quite a big concern out there right now with consumers, and particularly with buyers, because they don't want to be caught up in buying illegal or unregulated or unreported items.”
Although the fish do not yet carry the MSC-certified eco-label, consumers can expect to start seeing this label on certified-sustainable fish purchases in about a month, Fitzpatrick told SN.
“The company as a whole right now wants to make socially responsible decisions,” Hawryluk said.