Whole Foods bans red-rated fish from its stores

A fishermen carries a tuna at a market in Male on February 10, 2012. Jeremy Hobson's trip to Whole Foods unveiled that in 20 to 30 years, tuna like this might not even be available to buy, no matter what the price.

Jeremy Hobson: Now let's take a trip to the supermarket -- Whole Foods to be exact, on 3rd street here in Los Angeles. The upscale, often expensive, chain is about to make a big change. No, they're not lowering their prices. On Sunday -- Earth Day -- Whole Foods will stop selling wild seafood that's either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to ratings from the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

On our trip to Whole Foods, we met up with David Ginsburg, an environmental biologist from the University of Southern California.

David Ginsburg: What's happened is that we've become too comfortable with what's out in the natural world. And while we want the health benefits of some food items -- particularly fish -- at the same time, we don't want to pay the real cost of those.

Hobson: Yeah, well I see that on the "avoid" list, you've got things like tilapia -- which I see right there, fresh tilapia; mahi-mahi, salmon, farmed including Atlantic -- these are a lot of things that people have all the time.

Ginsburg: Sure. And I think that the question many people have is: should they be eating these, and are they sustainable choices? And Whole Foods is moving in a direction to say, some of these are not sustainable, and will not actually support them.

Hobson: Well, give us the scientific view on this -- how serious of a problem is this, that Whole Foods is reacting in this way and deciding to take some stuff right off their shelves.

Ginsburg: For example, tuna: tuna fisheries are in great danger right now; tuna's becoming less and less available in the environment. Yet we still see it as an everyday item, from canned tuna to items in a restaurant or in a supermarket. The questions are: are we actually paying the real price of that fish, and does the consumer actually have an idea of what their consumption of that fish is doing to the environment?

Hobson: Now, when we look down this line, we see prices like $8.99 a pound, or $13.99 a pound -- or even $21.99 a pound for this Alaskan King salmon. What should we be paying, really, for stuff like this right now?

Ginsburg: I think for some of these, in the case of say, tuna, or some of these other options, it should be at least double or triple the price.

Hobson: I've got a friend who said to me a couple years ago about this issue, "I want to order as much Ahi tuna and yellowfin tuna as I can right now, because in ten years it'll cost $100 to get it."

Ginsburg: I'm not so sure there will be Ahi tuna and bigeye tuna and others in the next 20 or 30 years available.

Hobson: Wow. It's that fast? We're really that close to the end of that kind of stuff?

Ginsburg: For some of these, we are.

Hobson: David Ginsburg is a marine environmental biologist at the environmental studies program at the University of Southern California. Thanks a lot.

Ginsburg: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

 

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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