SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Hannaford Supermarkets on Wednesday said it has put into place a sustainable policy that encapsulates all seafood across the store — from fresh fish and shellfish to canned and packaged goods to frozen products.
Hannaford called it the “first and only” major grocery chain to implement the “broadest sustainable seafood policy” in the U.S. industry.
“We know where all the seafood items in our store come from,” said George Parmenter, sustainability manager for Hannaford, at an in-store press conference Wednesday.
Parmenter said the new policy was developed with help from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, and traces each of more than 2,500 products back to where they were sourced, down to the precise fishery.
The store’s policy for wild seafood requires products are caught in a fishery that is under a scientifically based management plan. The policy on farmed seafood demands that production doesn’t harm communities, workers, the environment or human health.
Products that don’t meet those requirements aren’t sold at Hannaford.
According to the chain, more than 50 products including varieties of mackerel, clam, snapper, tuna and crab have been replaced by others that are harvested sustainably.
Each product can be traced to its origin using an online system, said Parmenter, and there’s an audit protocol in place that includes spot checks to ensure the products continue to meet Hannaford’s demands.
The policy is in place for all of Hannaford’s 181 stores, as well as for other U.S. stores owned by its parent company, the Delhaize Group of Belgium.
Those stores include Food Lion and Sweetbay. Combined with Hannaford’s operations, there are 1,400 stores in the United States now following that policy, said Parmenter.
That’s a big market push driving producers toward sustainability, noted Jen Levine, sustainable seafood program manager at Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
“It’s exactly the right idea,” she said.
Oftentimes, there’s no market reward established for sustainable harvesting, she said. This move by Delhaize’s operations provides that reward, she said: harvest sustainably, and you can access major grocery chains.
According to Hannaford, the company has been working on this policy for about three years, first developing the standards and then tracing back every one of the products.
In some cases, the research institute worked with producers to improve their harvesting techniques, sometimes by using new equipment, or documenting where they fish more thoroughly.
Steve Train, a lobsterman from Long Island, Maine, who has been harvesting Maine’s premiere catch for 35 years, said he didn’t have to do anything different to meet Hannaford’s standards — he operates in a managed fishery. Having Hannaford and Gulf of Maine Research Institute certify what he’s doing should make shoppers confident in the seafood they’re buying, he said.
“We’re doing the stuff we’re supposed to be doing. People keep hearing about overfishing; people keep hearing about horrible things. It’s not happening here,” he said.
Hannaford noted recent United Nations statistics estimating that as much as 80 percent of global fisheries are overfished or at their maximum harvest. Other grocery chains also are working on similar efforts, at least in their fish markets.
In Maine, said Train, lobstermen have long practiced sustainable harvesting, even before it was called that.
“This is the livelihood for coastal communities, for generations,” he said. “We want to be sustainable.”
Parmenter noted that sustainability is where most of the suppliers worldwide are heading. It’s a big industry initiative on which many nations and regions already are working.
Hannaford had chefs preparing seafood at the press conference, and midday shoppers sampled the goods. Shopper Cindy Snow of Scarborough said she thought the comprehensive seafood sustainability policy was important to have in place.
“I’m very supportive of the environment,” said Snow, in between bites. “We need to protect what we have.”