What You Need to Know About Sustainable SeafoodFebruary 12th, 2021
Succulent scallops basted with fragrant garlic butter. Delicate slices of seared tuna with vibrant pink centers. A seafood spread can certainly impress…but how did that fish find its way to your plate? If you don’t know, you may be inadvertently supporting fishing practices that deplete oceans, damage ecosystems, and promote unethical labor practices.
We dove deep into sourcing and sustainability when we built Thrive Market’s industry-leading seafood program. Read on to learn more about our sustainable seafood standards, and to take a closer look at our latest catch.
A Revolution, not an Evolution
With over 30 years in the meat and seafood industry under his belt, Mike Hacaga calls himself a “dinosaur,” but we prefer to call him a seasoned expert—and the Lead Product Innovator for Thrive Market’s Meat and Seafood program.
Hacaga explains that at the beginning of his career, the only term commonly associated with meat and seafood was “natural,” and all it indicated was that a product was minimally processed and contained no artificial ingredients or preservatives. It didn’t say anything about environmental impact or animal welfare. Because of its relative emptiness, “[natural] has become a dirty word in the industry over time,” Hacaga adds.
The meat and seafood industries have come a long way since then. “It’s been more of a revolution than an evolution,” Hacaga says, noting that consumer interest and demand has driven the shift. “Now, people want to understand where their food comes from.”
Hacaga’s first priority at Thrive Market was to develop a meat and seafood program that offered the most ethical, sustainable, humanely raised products available—one that would, in his words, “completely smoke the competition” on animal welfare and humane handling. “That’s where I put the flag in the sand for Thrive Market,” he states.
Hacaga had some unique experiences that made him the man for the job. One of the highlights of his decades-long career was working with organizations like PETA and experts like the legendary animal behavior scientist and activist Dr. Temple Grandin to establish the Global Animal Partnership (or GAP) standards. By combining the practical knowledge of suppliers and retailers with scientists’ perspective on humane treatment of animals, Hacaga and his colleagues were able to develop a benchmark program for animal welfare auditing recognized around the world.
Compassion—for animals and the Earth—is something Hacaga says the industry historically lacked, so it’s always where he starts when developing a program. “My approach with our suppliers is to understand what their philosophy is on animal welfare and the environment.”
What is Sustainable Seafood?
For seafood to be considered sustainable—whether it’s wild-caught or farmed—it must be sourced in a way that upholds environmentally responsible practices. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a helpful resource for determining the sustainability of your seafood. Seafood Watch defines sustainable seafood using three pillars: environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic viability.
- Environmental protection includes limiting bycatch (aka fish caught unintentionally), avoiding overfishing, managing pollution, preserving natural habitats, and considering the carbon footprint of fishing methods.
- Social responsibility includes ensuring ethical labor practices are being followed and prohibiting the use of child or slave labor in fishing.
- Economic viability includes incentivizing sustainable fishing to promote practices that are beneficial for both people and the environment.
From bay scallops and striped bass to Jonah crab claw and lobster, all of the seafood available at Thrive Market is sustainable and traceable—meaning each piece of fish is caught from a region that is being monitored for overfishing. In establishing and expanding Thrive Market’s sustainable seafood program, Hacaga partners with fishing organizations that are actively working to minimize bycatch, protect the environment, and make human rights a priority.
Our Fair Trade Certified shrimp is a good example of sustainable fishing in action. It comes from a co-op in Mexico, where artisanal fishermen—who may otherwise struggle to gain access to the seafood market, which is dominated by industrial fishing—use wind and tides to drift highly selective nets from small day-boats. This suripera style of fishing minimizes both fuel consumption and unintentional bycatch, making it a highly sustainable technique.
What is MSC-Certified Seafood?
Thrive Market holds itself to impeccably high standards with regard to sourcing—whether for meat and seafood or any other product. But Hacaga wants members to know that the company is aligned with the world’s most important outside auditing agencies as well. For seafood, that’s the Marine Stewardship Council (or MSC), a non-profit organization that works with scientists, conservation groups, and the seafood industry to set international best practices for sustainable fishing.
“At the rate commercial fishing is currently going, Hacaga warns, “the fish population could be wiped out by 2050 or 2060.” As the world’s leading accreditor for seafood, MSC monitors the world’s oceans to ensure overfishing doesn’t occur and assesses fisheries to guarantee they are upholding sustainable and ethical fishing practices.
To attain MSC certification, fisheries are measured on three core metrics:
- Stock sustainability: Fishing is at a level that ensures it can continue indefinitely while maintaining the productivity and health of the fish population.
Why it matters: Monitoring stock sustainability helps prevent overfishing, which threatens the livelihoods of people who fish for a living and can upset the balance of our oceans’ ecosystems. This metric examines whether there are enough fish left in the ocean for fishing to safely continue.
- Ecosystem impacts: Fishing activity is managed so that other species and habitats in the oceans remain healthy.
Why it matters: Did you know that some fisheries use destructive fishing practices, such as cyanide and explosives? Monitoring ecosystem impacts promotes fishing practices that minimize adverse environmental effects and maintain diversity.
- Effective management: Fisheries follow local, national, and international laws and are able to adapt to changing environmental circumstances.
Why it matters: This helps set clear, enforceable requirements for fisheries that are certified by MSC—importantly, without creating unfair barriers for small-scale fisheries and/or those in developing countries.
In the last year, Thrive Market is proud to have expanded its offering of MSC-Certified seafood.
Explore Our MSC-Certified Seafood
We partner directly with fishing communities to source our wild-caught and sustainably farmed fish and shellfish. When you see the blue MSC Certified label on a piece of seafood (including the varieties below), it means the fish can be traced to a specific MSC Certified fishery that meets MSC’s criteria, has not been mixed with uncertified seafood, and can be traced on the supply chain from ocean to plate. Simply put, it’s better for the oceans, for the people who make their living on them, and for you.
Wild-harvested in New England’s Georges Bank (between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia), this mild, flaky white fish is similar in flavor and texture to haddock and cod—so if you’re a fan of those fish, give this one a try. The best ways to cook pollock include breading, baking, and sautéing.
Another mild and flaky white fish, our Pacific cod is wild-caught in Alaska and especially tasty baked with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of white wine.
Harvested along the Atlantic coast (from New Jersey down to Florida), this variety of wild-caught tuna is an especially good source of omega-3 fatty acids. You can grill, poach, or braise it.
With a stronger flavor than albacore, our wild-caught yellowfin tuna from the Atlantic coast retains its taste and texture best when undercooked. One of the most popular ways to enjoy high-quality yellowfin tuna is by searing it, leaving it rare in the center.
Seared with butter and garlic or skewered with vegetables and thrown on the grill, our wild-caught Atlantic sea scallops make for a restaurant-worthy meal at home. Bookmark this recipe for scallops with cauliflower “risotto” for your next date night in.
There are many different types of salmon to choose from. Go for our wild-caught Alaskan sockeye if you like a rich salmon flavor. (You’ll also get a helping of omega-3 fatty acids.) For a quick and easy meal, put a piece of sockeye skin-side down on a sheet of foil, season with oil or butter and your choice of herbs, and place the foil directly on the grill. Close the grill and let the salmon cook for 10 to 13 minutes. You can also roast the salmon in the oven at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or air-fry it for 4 minutes at 400 degrees, then 8 to 10 minutes more at 350 degrees.
With mild flavor and light, flaky texture, our Atlantic cod—wild-caught in Norwegian waters—is a crowd pleaser. In this recipe, cod fillets are encrusted in beer batter and served with tangy tartar sauce. Add herb-roasted potatoes for a somewhat lightened-up take on classic fish and chips.
A good-quality piece of fish—like our wild-caught Alaskan halibut sourced from the Bering Sea—doesn’t need much adornment to shine. In this recipe for halibut, simple seasonings bring out the best in this delicate fish, while a fresh and flavorful tzatziki-inspired yogurt sauce balances the plate. Halibut can also star in an easy sheet pan supper; simply combine seasoned fish with quick-cooking vegetables like zucchini and grape tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 14 minutes at 400 degrees.