Supermarket operator Metro Inc. has joined other major food retailers like Wal-Mart and Loblaws in adopting a sustainable fisheries policy under which it will stop selling threatened species.

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A worker checks the quality of tuna fish prior to being processed for export to Japan, the United States, Canada and other countries at the General Santos Fish Port Complex in southern Philippines. ((Bullit Marquez/Associated Press))

"Starting today, Metro will temporarily withdraw seven threatened species," the Quebec-based chain said in making the announcement Thursday.

Species being banned from sale indefinitely are Atlantic cod (west), bluefin tuna, orange roughy, Chilean seabass, New Zealand hoki, skate and shark.

"These species will be substituted with other products and might be reintroduced in the future if scientific reports indicate that their stocks have climbed back up to acceptable levels," Metro said.

The new policy is being introduced gradually and Metro expects to have it fully implemented in its supermarkets and discount stores across Ontario and Quebec by June 2011.

Under the policy, Metro said it will only offer consumers fresh and frozen, wild and farmed seafood products from sustainable fisheries and that all suppliers will be required to sign a code of conduct attesting to their commitment to the new policy.

"To facilitate the traceability of its seafood products, Metro has developed a new, more transparent labelling system to help consumers make informed choices," it added.

'It's encouraging to see Metro implementing its policy and taking the issue of overfishing seriously.'—Sarah King, Greenpeace

In addition to the usual information, labels will now include the scientific name, the product's origin and the fishing type used among other things.

The move was applauded by Greenpeace, which said the move now leaves only Costco Canada among major food retailers "that refuses to take any such action," and only Sobeys continuing to sell Chilean sea bass.

"It's encouraging to see Metro implementing its policy and taking the issue of overfishing seriously," said Sarah King, Greenpeace oceans campaigner.

"Metro's stopping the sale of Atlantic cod in particular shows a commitment to the future health of Canada's fish stocks. We are asking all retailers still selling this species to follow suit," King said.

Meanwhile, to ensure its decisions are based on an objective analysis, Metro said it will take into account not only official scientific opinions but also the viewpoints of other stakeholders, including governments, NGOs and suppliers.

"Renowned independent experts, including Jean-Claude Brethes, a sea sciences professor at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, were also consulted," it added.

Robert Sawyer, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, described the new sustainable fisheries policy as "an important milestone."

"This initiative is proof that we want to go beyond the simple role of distributor and become a player in sustainable development," Sawyer said. "The adoption of a sustainable fisheries policy is consistent with our corporate responsibility approach."