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Greenpeace: Co-op exemplifies sustainable seafood

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The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is the best place in the state to purchase sustainable seafood, and No. 2 in the nation, according to Greenpeace.

“(The co-op) is one of those great stores that has taken amazing steps in realizing that sustainable seafood is incredibly important,” said Casson Trenor, seafood campaigner for Greenpeace.

Greenpeace ranks the 20 biggest grocery store chains on how sustainable their seafood is, and Trenor said some smaller grocers are included as well due to their commitment to ensuring seafood is sustainable.

Sustainable seafood is seafood that is not being overfished or fished in hazardous ways that deplete the ocean’s stocks or destroy the environment.

Trenor said Greenpeace has a “red list” of 22 species that should not be sold, including common ones such as swordfish, yellowfin tuna, snapper, farm shrimp and farm salmon.

Most grocers carry seven or eight, while the co-op carries one or two, which Trenor said is good and not easy to do.

What makes it difficult is that so many of the fish on the list are popular and recognizable to customers, and many stores see refusing to stock them as turning away money, Trenor said.

The co-op’s seafood manager, Robert Duncan, said he thinks about his kids when it comes to choosing sustainable suppliers.

“I have kids, and I want to do my part to make sure the oceans remain plentiful with seafood and the habitat,” he said.

Seafood sold at the co-op is from suppliers within 100 miles, whenever possible, and Duncan said the suppliers are always vetted to make sure they are serving sustainable fish free of antibiotics.

“We will turn something away if it doesn’t meet our standards,” he said.

When vetting seafood suppliers, Duncan said they look at multiple factors, including where fish are caught and what methods are used. That information is also available to the customers at the seafood counter.

That information is augmented by pamphlets from the nonprofit organization FishWise.

Both Duncan and Trenor said that the co-op’s work with FishWise is a big part of how they keep the store stocked with sustainable seafood.

Duncan said FishWise has interactive maps that show which zones are being fished sustainably, and the co-op then purchases foods from those zones, as opposed to other ones where commercial fishers overfish and oftentimes destroy local economies – especially in island chains where fishing is the mainstay of the economy.

One of the best places for sustainable fishing is in the waters off Alaska, where regulation and monitoring of the fish population ensure it isn’t overfished, Duncan said.

The downside can be slightly higher prices at the store, but Duncan said he has found that customers are willing to pay a few dollars more to know that they aren’t contributing to the overfishing problem.

Co-op spokeswoman Jennifer Cliff said educating customers about the sustainability of foods is one of the co-op’s missions, and it’s having an effect.

She said even skeptics who come into the store and take a look at the information are often taken aback when faced with the reality.

“It really is the future. People have got to take a look at this,” she added.

Duncan said he wants to educate the customers so they can eat with an understanding of where their food is coming from and what kind of effects it has on the environment and the global fish supply.

“You don’t want to come in after we’ve destroyed it all and say, ‘Oh, we should have done something,’ ” he said.

The co-op opened in 1973 and is member-owned, but anyone can shop there, Cliff said. It is located at 1900 Alhambra Blvd.

Owner/worker Tom Baxter said Tuesday that he thinks that everyone should strive to consume sustainable food.

“It’s just what you do,” he said. “I think it’s great we were recognized for our efforts.”

Sacramento resident Nevon Sheya said he has been shopping off and on at the co-op for about four months, when his girlfriend told him about it.

“I like the bulk foods,” he said. “I like that they label where it comes from. It makes you feel safe about your food.”

Trenor said that Greenpeace identified the co-op as the best for providing seafood sustainably, giving it a score of 9.1 out of 10. Anything that ranks in the 7.0 to 10 range is in the “green zone” for sustainability, he said, adding that the co-op isn’t the only sustainable store in Sacramento.

“Sacramento is one of the best places to live in the U.S. if you want sustainable seafood,” he said. “Nugget Market also does an excellent job. Most communities have zero (places to buy sustainable seafood), but Sacramento has two.”

He added that Safeway is the highest-ranked national chain with a score of 6.5 out of 10.

“You have some of the best stores in the country competing for your business,” he said.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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