Challenge to Whole Foods: Stop Selling the Most Endangered Fish


Here’s an example of a fish Whole Foods shouldn’t be selling.

OK, Whole Foods, you’re turning 30 in a couple of weeks, so it’s time to grow up. Your little ploy of marking the severely overfished species with a red dot makes you seem eco-conscious — while still profiting from the world’s declining fish stocks, as Sarah DiGregorio points out. The idea that the consumer should still be able to make an “informed choice,” and assist in exterminating an entire species, is absurd.

The seafood counter at Whole Foods.

Did all the people we observed buying red-dot fish say to themselves, “Well, the hake is likely to go nearly extinct in the near future, but I deserve to eat the last few morsels since I’m inviting the boss to dinner.” No, more likely they saw the fish for sale and simply bought it, without trying to figure out your confusing marking scheme.

So, Fork in the Road challenges you to do the right thing and stop selling any fish with a red dot affixed to it.

Show some soul and stop selling this grey sole.


Whole Foods’ system of fish designation is confusing — and misleading. (Click to enlarge.)

And while you’re at it, please revamp your dot system. Not only is it haphazardly applied (the red snapper, when we stopped by the Houston Street store, had no sign at all), but some of the designations are downright misleading. “Local,” for example. Most customers are likely to take that to mean locally caught, which doesn’t mean a fish is sustainable. We don’t care if you caught it off the Christopher Street pier with a booger and a bobby pin, the fish may still be on its last legs. In the case of the seafood cakes in the picture above, who knows what it means? Locally caught? Locally manufactured? And the “Responsibly Farmed” label doesn’t seem to be in use, nor does the blue tag “Responsibly Sourced,” both of which seem to obviate the other categories. Define “responsibly” and then put it to use.

Ultimately, you should only be selling fish that are sustainable and sustainably farmed. And marking those for which the future is cloudy (yellow dot). In that case, perhaps, the consumer can make an “informed choice.” But these designations must be kept up to date. You’re Whole Foods, and we expect you to lead in conservation efforts, not dawdle in the rear guard.

Even when misspelled, mackerel is a sustainable fish.