Maybe We Shouldn't Eat Sea Life to Extinction: Walton Family Foundation Supports Sustainable Seafood

Marine conservation and Walmart — these are not common word associations for most people. The Walton Family Foundation, however, grants millions of dollars to ocean conservation programs each year, including programs that protect threatened fish populations. Walmart now requires all of its wild-caught seafood to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which received more than $2.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation. (See Walton Family Foundation: Grants for Marine and River Conservation.)

The Marine Stewardship Council sets standards for sustainable seafood and then employs third-party certifiers to assess fisheries. Fisheries and seafood businesses can apply for the MSC's blue eco-label, which consumers can then look for when they're buying dinner at the grocery store. The eco-label ensures that the fish is from a sustainable fish stock and not a declining population, that the way the fish was caught minimized environmental impact, and that a management system is in place to ensure the fishery continues to be sustainable into the future. To qualify for the eco-label, the fishery must meet a long list of specific criteria, and all companies associated with the fish — from boat to plate — also must be certified.

It's not easy to get certified and the process can take several years. To prove it is sustainable, a fishery has to run through a gamut of data, measures, and proofs. Reliable data on the age and gender of fish populations are needed to show the health and trajectory of a fishery. Measures to prevent bycatch must be implemented, and effective management plans must be instituted.

The other end of an eco-label is the consumer. Eco-labels depend on consumers who care about conservation. Consumers must create a market for sustainable products, which are often sold at a premium, to incentivize fishermen to harvest sustainably. An eco-label can also help raise awareness so that consumers start thinking about making good fish choices, while also providing the information they need to make those choices.

The Walton Family Foundation believes in "creating economic incentives for ocean sustainability." It also believes that conservation initiatives are more likely to succeed when economics are taken into account. Grantseekers applying for funding from the Walton Family Foundation would probably do best to focus on the incentives and economics of their program. Reaching out to local fishermen, seafood retailers, and consumers to find economic reasons to support sustainably caught fish would also likely sit well with this foundation.