A college student eats a tuna sandwich from their dining hall. Was his dinner caught using a method dangerous to other marine wildlife?
A hotel guest orders shrimp linguine from room service. Was her entrée sourced from a well-managed farm? Was the workforce treated fairly?
An attendee at a corporate meeting dines on salmon. Was that fish pumped with a high level of antibiotics?
Most of us wouldn’t know the answers to these questions. Not because consumers don’t care about sustainable seafood practices. Most do. However, it’s difficult to know the details when eating at locations like big restaurant chains or college dining halls, hotels, employee cafeterias, hospitals, or leisure venues like museums or stadiums.
That’s why the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program is working to take the guesswork out of sustainable seafood, while improving seafood sourcing and business practices for the benefit of the global environment.
Seafood Watch was established in 1999 by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help consumers choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that do less damage to the environment. It also partners with businesses to source environmentally responsible seafood. The aquarium expanded its work in 2014 to include the development of non-competitive Food Service Roundtable Discussions with some of the largest food service providers in the country, which operate a range of eating a drinking places from restaurants to student dining halls.
Arlin Wasserman, founder and partner of Changing Tastes, a food service industry consultancy that focuses on business and culinary strategy including sustainability partners with Seafood Watch, says these meetings are unique. “As far as we know, this is the only gathering of leading restaurant and food service companies on an agenda for change.”
The Food Service Roundtables include companies like Delaware North, Aramark, Compass Group and many of the nation’s largest restaurant and hotel brands, who have chosen to work — rather than separately — within the industry’s supply chains to improve sustainability practices across the industry.
Julia Jordan, director of sustainability at roundtable member Compass Group, says the “Challenges faced in our oceans, and within the seafood industry, are far too great for one company to tackle alone. This unique union gives food service companies like ours the chance to link arms with our competitors, suppliers and NGOs to align on a strategy that really moves the needle.”
Deb Friedel, Delaware North’s director of sustainability, adds, “Participating in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s food service industry roundtables has been very valuable as we seek to increasingly source products that are sustainable, meet consumer expectations and make good business sense.”
The decision these large companies like the Compass Group and Delaware North have made to convene and work together matters because the food service and hospitality industry sells more fish and seafood overall (besides canned tuna) than the grocery and retail industry. The choices the food service and hospitality industry makes can have an enormous effect on the marine ecosystem and wildlife.
Wasserman explains, “The restaurant industry supplier community will generally approach the exchange in a way that’s called, ‘right product, right time,’ which means they will provide whatever the industry wants, when they want it. This makes it very difficult to change how the supply chain works unless big companies come together to request and implement those changes. When they do, they can transform standard business practices and reporting, which in turn, improves the safety, sustainability and quality of seafood.”
Together, the members of the Food Service Roundtables have made transformational changes. For example, they have worked to raise the minimum standards on the seafood products they buy and also taken substantial steps toward sharing better information and data through their supply chains and internally within their companies. They also advocate collectively for better fisheries management by the government and trade groups, as well as develop solutions for lower antibiotic use in seafood development.
“It’s remarkable for large companies like these to come together to solve sustainability challenges and to jointly comment on public policy in ways that make meaningful progress,” says Wasserman.
Because of the work of the Seafood Watch Food Service Roundtables, consumers can rest more easily when attending basketball games, frequenting hotel restaurants, or eating in school or hospital cafeterias knowing that the major players are taking care of sustainability concerns on the front end.
Shawn Cronin, manager of marketing engagement at Seafood Watch, credits the Walton Family Foundation for making these improvements possible. “It is because of Walton that we have the resources to convene and host such a large and growing influential group who are collectively improving seafood sustainability practices across the board.”