British Columbia

Overwaitea seafood gets 'Ocean Wise' approval from Vancouver Aquarium

Save-On Foods and Urban Fare are among the grocery stores that are to receive Ocean Wise approval for seafood products — one year after the Suzuki Foundation ended its partnership with the grocer due due in part to untraceable fish products.

Announcement comes one year after the Suzuki Foundation severed ties with Overwaitea

Save-On president Darrell Jones and Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale announce an official partnership between Overwaitea Food Group and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center. (CBC)

Overwaitea Food Group, one of the largest grocery chains in Western Canada, has partnered with the Vancouver Aquarium to provide sustainable seafood in its supermarkets.

The announcement comes nearly a year after the Suzuki Foundation ended its partnership with the grocer, due in large part to untraceable fish products.

Overwaitea chains, including Save-On Foods and Urban Fare, will now offer Ocean Wise seafood products — a stamp of approval from the Vancouver Aquarium that highlights sustainable fishing practices.

Ocean Wise measures sustainability in terms of abundant/resilient populations and whether the species are well managed and harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats.

"Today, we focus on providing customers with quality, eco-friendly products — Ocean Wise being the latest sustainable choice that puts an emphasis on local, and particularly, on Western-Canadian products," said Save-On president Darrell Jones at a Wednesday news event at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Untraceable fish

The announcement comes just over a year after Overwaitea was dropped from a different sustainable seafood program — the Suzuki Foundation's SeaChoice.

Last summer, SeaChoice severed ties with Overwaitea, due in large part to a lack of information about where the fish being sold in stores was caught.

David Suzuki helped the Overwaitea Food Group announce its partnership with SeaChoice at a Vancouver event when it joined in 2009, the first major retail chain to do so. (Lana Gunnlaugson)

At the time, Suzuki Foundation director-in-general Jay Ritchlin said SeaChoice was no longer able to vouch for the sustainability claims being made at Overwaitea stores, due to issues around the traceability of fish.  

The Suzuki Foundation was unable to provide a comment on Wednesday's announcement.

One product minimum

Ocean Wise insists that traceability isn't an issue.

According to Claire Li, a representative for the program, in order to become an Ocean Wise partner, Overwaitea had to submit a full list of all its seafood products, providing detail on the exact species being sold, how it was caught, where it was caught and if it was farmed.

But despite the partnership, not all the seafood products offered in its stores will bear the Ocean Wise marker.

"Partners need a minimum of one sustainable item in order to join the program," said Li.

Li says the bulk of Overwaitea's seafood meets Ocean Wise's sustainability criteria, which is based on Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program — the same sustainable seafood advisory that informs SeaChoice approval.

Ocean Wise will inform Overwaitea of sustainable alternatives for all of its non-Ocean-Wise-approved products, said Li.