Greenpeace has declared victory in its campaign to stop Costco from selling at-risk fish.

Costco has a new sustainable seafood policy that eliminates 12 “red list” (aka avoid eating to protect the environment) fish species from its store shelves. It’s an updated version of a 2009 sustainability plan that was criticized by environmental groups for supporting unsustainable fisheries.

The company plans to work with the World Wildlife Federation to improve seafood selection while buying farmed fish from companies with sustainable standards and tuna suppliers working with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

Costco also released a list of 12 fish that will no longer be sold at Costco (I’ve included info below on why these fish are considered unsustainable by advocates at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Click on the links for more, including sustainable alternatives to the at-risk fish):



  • Atlantic cod: Criticized for trawl fishing methods (which drag a net along the sea floor and impact habitat) and overfishing that has depleted stocks.



  • Atlantic halibut: At low levels after heavy fishing pressure, also caught mainly with trawl nets.



  • Chilean sea bass: Severely overfished and caught using trawl nets that also impact bycatch stocks. However, there is a certified sustainable alternative.



  • Greenland halibut: Another trawl fishery that impacts bycatch stocks; the alternatives to trawl-caught halibut are Pacific halibut caught on longlines in Alaska (best choice) and on the West Coast.



  • Grouper: Grouper from the U.S. Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the main Hawaiian Islands are red-listed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are short-lived with short reproductive cycles, which makes them vulnerable to overfishing.



  • Monkfish: Also caught with nets that carry bycatch concerns.



  • Orange roughy: Worldwide populations have been heavily overfished using bottom trawls.



  • Redfish: Several species of fish sold as red snapper are on the decline or have been overfished in the past.



  • Shark: Shark populations are severely depleted worldwide for a variety of reasons. They’re caught as bycatch in some fisheries, they’re targeted by fishing gear that incidentally kills marine mammals and sea turtles, and they’re killed for their fins to make shark fin soup.



  • Skates and rays: Several species of the low-growing and long-lived Atlantic coast skates are overfished



  • Swordfish: Imported swordfish is red-listed largely because the gear used in international fisheries can harm marine mammals and sea turtles.



  • Bluefin tuna: Around the world, bluefin tuna are being caught faster than they can reproduce. They have very long life spans and grow to very large sizes, which also leads them to accumulate toxins such as mercury and PCBs that can be harmful to humans at higher concentrations. Environmental Defense Fund has a health advisory on bluefin tuna because of their elevated levels of mercury and PCBs.



The Oregonian reports Costco’s new seafood policy is “likely to spark attention to other items that are sold that the company has received criticism for, including veal and eggs laid by caged chickens.”

Some of the fisheries that have been red listed have alternatives that are certified by the international Marine Stewardship Council. But, as I’ve discussed, that sustainable label and others have been criticized for crossing the line between environmental consciousness to greenwashing for marketing purposes.

Oregon fisheries are jumping on the MSC bandwagon, however, paying tens of thousands of dollars to have a third-party certifier review the sustainable fishing practices to earn the right to use the MSC’s blue and white eco-label. Oregon pink shrimp is certified. Oregon Dungeness crab was finally certified in December after a seven-year trial, and 16 different Oregon groundfish species – some with illustrative names like “shortspine thornyhead” and “splitnose rockfish” – have applied for MSC certification.

One last note on this topic: The Monterey Bay Aquarium doesn’t have a squeaky clean reputation either, though many eco-conscious eaters subscribe to its sustainable seafood watch lists. Last year, the aquarium stepped on some toes in Oregon by red listing the troll-caught salmon caught off the coast. Critics said the decision unnecessarily hurt fishermen and fishing communities and undermined West Coast fishery managers’ long, difficult process of assessing fish stocks and setting catch limits to protect a fragile run of Sacramento River salmon. But aquarium leaders defended their decision, saying fishing shouldn’t have been allowed at all to protect the Sacramento River run. Because healthy and threatened salmon runs intermingle in the ocean, West Coast salmon fisheries have been shut down repeatedly to protect the threatened runs even though other salmon stocks in the Pacific are healthy enough to be caught.