Buy-Low Foods is no longer selling seafood classified as "red-listed" or unsustainable by SeaChoice, a national sustainable seafood program.

That means types of farmed salmon, king crab, Atlantic cod, and other popular species are gone from the store.

The grocery chain, which operates in B.C. and Alberta, is the first major grocer in North America to take this step, according to SeaChoice.

"It's a big deal ... it's showing a model of what is possible with major grocer chains that these outlets are able to source sustainably," said Lana Brandt, national manager of SeaChoice.

"It's a proud moment for us," said Dan Bregg, president of Buy-Low Foods. The company committed to the change two years ago, and has worked with suppliers to make it happen, said Bregg.

"The challenge is with changing mindsets, and changing the idea that yes, you can obtain ocean-friendly sustainable seafood and meet the customers needs."

SeaChoice at Buy-Low

Lana Brandt, national manager of SeaChoice, speaks to media at Buy-Low Foods in New Westminster, after the chain of grocers removed all red-listed seafood from sale. (SeaChoice)

Red, yellow, green

SeaChoice is a program that ranks all kinds of seafood into three categories, with three colours: green ("Best Choice"), yellow ("Some Concerns") and red ("Avoid").

Retailers signing on to the program may be committing to offer and label the green choices — or in Buy-Low's case, eliminate the red ones altogether.

The voluntary program is intended help businesses and consumers make decisions when the complexity of global fisheries is too much for most to keep track of.

For example:

  • Albacore tuna is a good choice when it's troll-caught in the North Pacific, but not if it's longlined in the Atlantic.
  • Alaska king crab — a marketing term that can refer to a few different species — may be okay or terrible, depending on what species it is, and where it was caught.
  • Even farmed salmon could be red or green. Atlantic salmon farmed in open nets — which is the majority — is on the red list, but it's a recommended choice if it's from a land-based farm.

Though many grocers have made sustainable seafood pledges, some have struggled to keep them.

Most notably, the Overwaitea Food Group (which, like Buy-Low, is owned by the Jim Pattison Group) was dropped by SeaChoice in August due to ongoing issues with transparency and verification.