Costco Seafood Survey

salmon processingWe frequently go to Costco and buy way too much of everything. We also eat way too many samples of things, but that’s another issue. They usually have some decent seafood at great prices. But how much do we compromise to get those low prices?

On many previous trips, as our twitter friends will confirm, we lament the heavy sales volume of South American farmed salmon at our local Costco stores. Indeed, close to half the entire display space for seafood is used to sell farmed salmon products. Here’s how it looked on our most recent trip to Costco in Pompano Beach, FL.

In the seafood section, we found on display the following items:

  • U-15 Farmed Black Tiger Prawns
  • U-15 Grade A Scallops
  • Fresh Farmed Live Littleneck Clams
  • Fresh Farmed Atlantic Salmon
  • Fresh Farmed Steelhead Salmon
  • Fresh Farmed Tilapia Fillet
  • Fresh Wild Whole Snapper
  • Fresh Ahi Tuna
  • Fresh Wild Mahi Mahi

Notorious by their absence were staples like king and dungeness crab, and less frequent offerings like cobia and sea bass. We don’t often see cobia, but enjoy eating it when it’s available.

Now the tiger prawns from Vietnam, which have never been out of stock as far as we can tell, are not a great choice to stock for the masses of shrimp buyers that come through the doors every day. Shrimp farming operations are not the friendliest outfits for the environment, and Southeast Asian shrimp exporters have a poor track record of managing their resources. We like to see choices like pink gulf shrimp, and other regional Atlantic shrimp varieties being sold, since this is Florida after all.

The scallops, by contrast, seem like a much better choice. They are U.S. wild caught scallops from the Atlantic. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, the populations are being managed fairly well these days, although dredging is a concern. Hard to imagine a big retailer like Costco selling pricier hand-caught scallops, so this seems like a victory.

The ahi tuna from Sri Lanka is a big loser. Fresh wild caught yellowfin tuna is a bad choice, although US wild caught yellowfin seems to be a bit better? Albacore would be better, but sales would likely slump, so it’s not being sold here.

Next up, the fresh, wild mahi mahi from Ecuador. This is probably not a good choice due to concerns about the fishing method. Longline fishing usually means large amounts of bycatch, which results in huge numbers of accidentally dead animals. Once again, the Monterey Bay Aquarium site shows there are good alternatives available in the US.

The snapper is a tough one to call. It was not descriptively labeled, meaning the type of snapper was not listed. It looked to us to be Atlantic red snapper, which puts it firmly on the avoid list. Southern Atlantic stocks, according to you-know-who, are overfished. But hard to know when the type of snapper is not disclosed.

Fresh farmed live littleneck clams – we have a winner! Yes, they are fresh and healthy to eat. Farmed clams pose none of the environmental problems associated with operations farming large fish like salmon, in fact they are a highly sustainable seafood.

Fresh farmed salmon filets from Chile. Tsk, tsk is all we can say. Chile has pretty much written the book on unhealthy, environmentally harmful salmon farming operations. The Chilean salmon farms are the poster boy for everything bad about fish farming.

Read the numerous, well documented horror stories about incredible quantities of antibiotics, escape and cross-breeding with wild species, close containment and the associated spread of disease, and on and on. Don’t let anyone fool you, there is no such thing as “good” farmed salmon. But this is probably the worst salmon available on the planet.

These filets aren’t even naturally orange, that pretty color comes from the fish being fed food coloring! Avoid buying your fresh salmon from Costco at all cost. Wild Alaskan salmon is healthier for you than any farmed salmon, and is a sustainable, well managed product.

farmed tilapiaFresh farmed tilapia fillets from Hondouras get a mixed review. Costco has avoided buying the dreadful Chinese tilapia, with notoriously bad practices like dumping in testosterone and growth hormones. Then there are the stories of feeding livestock waste to the growing fish, and when they get larger feeding them genetically modified corn and soy.

The US farmed stocks are supposed to be much better, but we think the South and Central American suppliers are an unknown. Still, US producers cannot keep up with the demand, despite this fish’s lack of omega-3 fatty acids. Costco seafood buyers deserve credit here, for avoiding the carbon monoxide glazed Chinese tilapia.

Costco has a long way to go to be a great place to buy seafood. But let’s be clear, there are far worse places to purchase fish. Wal-mart comes to mind, with their top priority being to source the most inexpensive possible products. Has anyone found evidence that Wal-Mart actually buys some percentage of their tilapia from somewhere besides China? I think not.

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