AUSTIN, Texas (May 19, 2014) – For the fourth time since 2008, Whole Foods Market earned the top spot in Greenpeace’s annual seafood sustainability ranking of U.S. supermarkets, claiming both the highest overall score and the strongest sustainable seafood policy. Whole Foods Market has been ranked first for the last two years in a row.

Greenpeace’s 2014 Carting Away the Ocean’s (CATO) VIII report ranks 26 major retailers in four areas: policy, initiatives, labeling and transparency, and red-list inventory. Whole Foods Market’s stringent purchasing policies for wild-caught fish, partnerships with leading scientific organizations, public advocacy, pioneering transparency and labeling, customer education, fishmonger expertise and industry-leading aquaculture standards all contributed to the company’s continued leadership in seafood sustainability.

“Whole Foods Market’s mission towards a fully sustainable seafood department is about providing the right choices for customers, making it easier for them to find the highest quality, most sustainable seafood anywhere,” said David Pilat, global seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “We’re proud to be recognized by Greenpeace for our seafood industry leadership and will continue to honor the oceans through our sourcing, so people worldwide can be nourished by seafood into the future.”

Whole Foods Market excelled the Sustainable Seafood Policy category of the report, earning the highest score of any retailer. The company purchases as much wild-caught seafood as possible from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). For fisheries not MSC-certified, Whole Foods Market only sources from fisheries rated either a “Best Choice” (green) or “Good Alternative” (yellow) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) and Blue Ocean Institute (BOI). In 2012, Whole Foods Market stopped selling all species rated red by MBA and BOI, becoming the first national grocer to make this stand.

Greenpeace also identified Whole Foods Market’s selection of canned tuna as the best of any major U.S. retailer, an impactful category for sustainability since America is the largest canned tuna market in the world. Launched in May 2014, the retailer’s new Pole & Line Caught tuna is the most sustainable canned tuna option on the market. The fish in every can is caught one at a time using the pole and line method, which eliminates bycatch of marine mammals, sharks, and turtles. These vulnerable, and in some cases protected species, are caught in tuna fisheries that use less selective fishing methods.

“Every can is fully traceable back to its source. Our Albacore tuna even has the fisherman’s signature on each can so shoppers can see exactly which boat their fish came from,” said Dwight Richmond, global grocery purchasing coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “Our Pole & Line Caught brand also led to the introduction of the first and only MSC-certified cat food, called Deck Hand. It’s made with the otherwise unused meat from the same tuna fish as the Pole & Line Caught brand so no meat goes to waste.”

Whole Foods Market’s aquaculture policies also earned praise from Greenpeace. The retailer’s farmed seafood – recognized by the Responsibly Farmed seal – is raised in compliance with the company’s strict Quality Standards and third-party verification process to ensure that farmed fish comes from the world's leaders in environmentally-responsible aquaculture.

Whole Foods Market excelled in Greenpeace’s labeling and transparency category for having pioneering case signs with sustainability ratings from MBA and BOI, as well as other point-of-purchase information like posters, pamphlets and knowledgeable fishmongers, along with online resources and transparent Quality Standards. The company also has rigorous internal traceability initiatives like full traceability from fishery to store, as well as dedicated port buyers selecting fish directly from the docks, and company-owned seafood processing facilities to create a clear, direct connection to seafood sources.

The Greenpeace CATO report also scores retailers on their sale of “Red List” seafood, the 22 marine species the organization deems the most destructively caught or endangered. Whole Foods Market was criticized for selling 14 species on Greenpeace’s Red List, although the report notes, “Whole Foods has dropped the sale of species that most other retailers still carry, employs a variety of mitigation tools that dampen the harm of carrying an unmitigated Red List product, and participates in several fishery/aquaculture improvement projects.”

Greenpeace’s Red List is based on the species in general, while sourcing decisions for wild-caught seafood at Whole Foods Market are based on MBA and BOI’s scientific evaluations and ratings of specific fisheries—including the particular area where the fish are caught, the status of the fish population in that area, the effectiveness of management and the method of catch. Whole Foods Market does not carry any wild-caught seafood from fisheries rated red by MBA and BOI.

The CATO report is also critical of Whole Foods Market’s “over-reliance” on Marine Stewardship Council-certified products and challenges the company to use its partnership with the organization to influence their process.  Whole Foods Market’s does indeed work on MSC’s policy by having Margaret Wittenberg, the company’s global vice president of quality standards and public affairs, serve on the MSC Stakeholder Council. 

Whole Foods Market chose the MSC as a partner for fishery certification because of the strength of their international, multi-stakeholder process for developing and implementing standards for fisheries as well as the required third-party chain of custody certification to ensure traceability. Whole Foods Market believes that the MSC sustainable seafood certification program is a strong tool for bringing about changes in fisheries worldwide.