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Overwaitea tops Greenpeace ranking

Overwaitea Food Group’s decision to stop selling open net-pen farmed salmon at its stores helped earn it the No. 1 spot on Greenpeace’s annual list of sustainable seafood supermarkets in Canada.

The list, which ranks the eight largest supermarkets in the country on criteria such as whether they purchase sustainably caught seafood or whether they’ve stopped selling endangered species of fish, was released Thursday.

Sarah King, Greenpeace’s ocean campaign co-ordinator, said Overwaitea is the first major grocer in Canada and the third in North America to stop selling open pen-net farmed salmon.

Aldi and Target in the U.S. have also stopped buying open pen-net farmed salmon.

Environmental groups have criticized this type of fish farming, in which salmon are kept in net cages open to the surrounding marine environment. That allows chemicals and nutrients as well as fish waste to contaminate and harm wildlife fish habitats, they say.

“It’s time the federal government and the salmon farming industry start getting the message that this product doesn’t fit in with the Canadian retail market’s growing sustainable seafood movement,” King said.

In 2010, Overwaitea began selling Coho salmon that is farmed on land in a closed containment system. It’s sold under the branded name Sweetspring and has now replaced open net-pen farmed salmon in Overwaitea stores. The retailer also sells wild salmon.

“At the end of the day, we want people to feel confident that we’re doing everything we can to provide seafood today that also ensures that seafood will be available for future generations,” said Overwaitea vice-president Carman Churcott.

Sobeys and Loblaw have also backed closed containment farming, according to Greenpeace, but have yet to add fish from such a system into their stores.

Overwaitea operates more than 120 stores in B.C. and Alberta under banners such as Save-On-Foods, Price Smart Foods, Cooper’s Foods, Urban Fare and Overwaitea Foods.

This is the fourth year that Greenpeace has ranked Canada’s largest grocers on seafood sustainability. Each company is graded out of 100.

This year, Overwaitea scored 72 per cent, the highest mark Greenpeace has ever handed out. (Last year, Loblaw scored the No. 1 spot with 62 per cent.)

This year, Loblaw came in second place with a higher score of 68 per cent. Loblaw and Overwaitea have traded the No 1. spot each of the past four years.

Other retailers ranked as follows: 3. Safeway at 63 per cent; 4. Metro at 56 per cent; 5. Walmart Canada at 55 per cent; 6. (a tie) Sobeys and Federated Co-operatives at 54 per cent; 7. Coscto Canada with 43 per cent.

On the plus side, Greenpeace noted that many major food retailers are removing endangered species from their stores.

Endangered or “redlist” species include yellowfin tuna, Atlantic halibut, swordfish, monkfish and Fraser River sockeye

This year only Costco didn’t get a passing overall grade. Last year five chains failed.

“Canadian retailers continue to take positive steps and that is reflected in their scores,” King said.

However, Greenpeace expressed concern over the large amount of farmed salmon still sold in stores.

Many of the country’s large grocery chains have instituted sustainable seafood plans in recent years with several aiming to stock only sustainably harvested seafood in their stores over the next several years.

Perhaps the most ambitious is Loblaw Companies, which has set a deadline for the end of next year.

Earlier this week, Loblaw provided an update on its progress. The company noted that it has tripled the number of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified wild-caught seafood in its stores. It also said it has improved seafood buying process and in spring implemented a vendor questionnaire.

“For the balance of year, Loblaw remains focused on increasing engagement with consumers, suppliers and key industry stakeholders,” said Paul Uys, Loblaw’s vice-president of sustainable seafood.

Metro Inc., meanwhile, reported this morning that it too is making progress on sustainability and has recently taken seven species out of stores that do not meet criteria of its own seafood policy.

“In less than three years, we have taken giant steps with respect to the responsible procurement of seafood products,” Claude Jauvin, Metro’s vice-president of national procurement  for perishables, said. “We have established specific criteria for the species that we commercialize and we provide a great deal of information to consumers about the traceability of our products.”

The complete Greenpeace ranking can be viewed here.

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