About 71 per cent of the surface of the world is water. Almost all of that is ocean. If you’re an average Canadian you rely on those waters for about one fish-based meal each week. For one billion humans on this earth, fish is the primary source of animal protein. Little wonder that about one-third of marine stock globally is overfished.
These are daunting facts for our generation, the first to realize just how immense the impact of fish consumption has been on the world’s largest water habitats and resources. And, while the scale of the topic is almost unimaginably immense, consider this: The decisions we as retailers make in the supply chain — and those you make as grocery store customers — matter to the future of our oceans.
Even for those Canadians who think about the impact of food choices on the sustainability of oceans and fish stocks, the thought might only arise while shopping for fillets at the fish counter. But, there is a wide range of products that contain seafood as ingredients — fish oil supplements, omega-3 orange juice, and even pet food. In 2009, Loblaw made the bold commitment to source 100 per cent of all seafood products from sustainable sources. Five years later, as we mark World Oceans Day today, nearly 90 per cent of our core seafood categories range from fully certified to making meaningful progress on sustainability. But there is still work to be done. Even as Canada’s largest buyer and seller of seafood, we didn’t know the steep slope of the task.
With the help of WWF Canada and scientific advisor Dr. Jeff Hutchings of Dalhousie University, aggressive commitments have been established across wild and farmed, fresh and frozen, canned and processed seafood products. Hundreds of suppliers have been engaged. Thousands of products have been assessed. And entire producer communities, like Newfoundland’s 3Ps cod fishery, have understood the imperative of change and have risen to the challenge. In our stores, we’ve certified fish counters, introduced Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) products to market, and even launched an MSC-certified cat food.
Years ago, customers lacked sustainable choices. Today they don’t. But, here is the rub: Research shows that the vast majority of Canadians don’t understand the sustainable seafood choices available to them. Today, as they walk the grocery aisles, fewer than one-in-five know what the ASC or MSC eco-labels on products mean. They may not get why at-risk species have been removed from our offer. They may not appreciate that their personal seafood choices send ripples across our oceans. That does not mean Canadians don’t or shouldn’t care.
Our nation boasts the world’s longest shoreline. This gives us a front-row seat for the changes and initiatives underway, but also the potential risks of inaction. As consumers, we have a role to play. It can be as simple as making informed decisions or asking questions at the fish counter.
Galen Weston is executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd.