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Greenpeace to confront stores over seafood policies

VANCOUVER - Lovers of swordfish, orange roughy or farmed salmon, beware: Greenpeace is planning to take its fight for sustainable fishing to grocery stores across Canada in the next few weeks.

The environmental advocacy group, known for its high-profile campaigns, released a report today ranking eight major Canadian supermarket chains on their commitment to sustainable fishing.

"The supermarket chains are in a unique position, placed between the consumer and the producer ... where they can pressure the industry much more than the consumer (can)," said Sarah King, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner.

None of the chains received a passing grade from Greenpeace, which looked at the company's policies on seafood sustainability, their labelling and ability to trace the origin of the seafood the sell, and how many "Redlist" species they carry.

The Redlist consists of 15 species that Greenpeace considers to be the least sustainably managed -- either because of over-harvesting or because of damage to the environment. In addition to the species mentioned above, it includes tropical shrimp, shark, and Atlantic cod, haddock and halibut.

The top-ranked chain was Loblaw Companies Ltd., primarily because it has a written policy committing it to sustainable seafood and better labelling. (Loblaw operates the Real Canadian Superstore in B.C.)

However, King said that still wasn't enough for a pass.

"Some of the not-so-strong points of their policy are the fact that there's not a lot of detail, it's heavily reliant on certification schemes some of which are not yet in existence, and also they're still selling a lot of Redlist fish," she said.

The lowest-ranked chains were Metro and Safeway, because of their lack of seafood policies and poor labelling of fish origins and harvesting or farming methods.

The report did identify some international chains as examples of good practices, including U.S.-based Whole Foods, which operates stores in B.C. and Ontario.

"Whole Foods is taking some strong action in terms of the development of standards for aquaculture," said King, "but I don't think to date they have a fully implemented seafood policy."

King said Greenpeace is targeting stores, not customers, because of the power they have to control large sections of the market. And she wants them to use that power for more than just making promises.

"There have been a lot of good intentions, a lot of commitments, but this has not really translated to changes in the store, and it has certainly not trickled back to changes on the water," she said.

Greenpeace is refusing to release details about its plan to "bring the message to store managers and customers," except to say that events will happen in 19 cities in five provinces over the next few weeks.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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