Albertsons Cos. has completed the phase-out of freshwater eel, or unagi, from sushi products three and a half years ahead of its self-imposed deadline of year-end 2022.
The Boise, Idaho-based grocer vowed in 2018 to eliminate the popular product because wild eel populations are in decline and the process of raising farmed eel is unsustainable for the species and the oceans.
“While our customers enjoy unagi, they expect us to do the right thing when it comes to the long-term health of a species and our oceans,” said Lori Dupre, director of merchandising operations-deli and prepared food. “We commend our sushi vendor partners for their role in helping us reach this sustainability goal.”
The move is part of a companywide “Top 5 by 2022” sushi commitment to ensure that wild and farmed-raised seafood used in prepared sushi will be sourced using sustainable options. The commitment, announced 17 months ago, laid out plans to eliminate unagi and transition tuna, farmed salmon, species of whitefish used for surimi (imitation crab) and farmed shrimp to responsible sources by the end of 2022.
The decision to remove eel from its sushi offerings until a sustainable source could be established was made after exploring all possible options. Per Albertsons Cos.’ “Responsible Seafood Policy,” the company prioritizes working with vendors to address environmental issues rather than discontinue products.
Farmed eel is among the lowest-scoring farmed species rated by Seafood Watch, in part because farms rely on wild, endangered eels to stock their ponds and because freshwater eel farms can spread disease and pollution. High demand for eel has also created a global black market for poaching and smuggling of eel, which also violates the company’s policy.
“Albertsons Cos. accomplishment sets a high precedent for what is possible in retail sushi,” said Jessie Zupcic, Project Manager at FishWise, a nonprofit sustainable seafood consultancy and Albertsons Cos.’ partner on seafood sustainability initiatives. “FishWise is honored to work with a company that is willing to set and achieve such ambitious sustainability goals.”
Over the next three and a half years, Albertsons Cos. will work closely with FishWise and its sushi vendors to transition shrimp, salmon, surimi and tuna to all responsible sources.
Albertsons Cos. operates stores across 34 states and the District of Columbia under 20 banners including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs, as well as meal kit company Plated in New York City. Albertsons Cos. is committed to helping people across the country. In 2018, along with the Albertsons Cos. Foundation, the company gave nearly $262 million in food and financial support in the areas of hunger relief, education, cancer research and treatment, programs for people with disabilities and veterans outreach.
FishWise assists businesses and collaborators in the transition to more sustainable and responsible seafood products.