The Darden Group, which operates both Red Lobster and Olive Garden national chain restaurants, is understandably also the largest purchaser of seafood in the U.S. As concern grows over the dwindling seafood supply in the world’s oceans, Darden has made every attempt to stay out in front of the situation and look for solutions to a growing problem.
Darden spends an estimated $800 million annually on seafood for its restaurant chains. In order to keep their restaurants supplied with product, the company has gotten involved with several initiatives, primary among them the development of aquaculture, or fish farming. The problem with fish farming is that, if done improperly, it can have just as detrimental effect on the environment as trawling. Fish farms are water-intensive and produce a lot of waste, which often ends up in local water supplies. There is also the danger of disease cross-contamination between farmed and wild populations. The Global Aquaculture Alliance, which Darden helped found, has set guidelines and standards for global aquaculture. The restaurant group began requiring that all farmed shrimp suppliers adhere to the Alliance’s standards in 2006.
But aquaculture can only satisfy part of America’s constant appetite for seafood. When it comes to the harvesting of wild seafood, Darden has made moves to ensure the product they buy is coming from sustainable populations. The company also heeds an advisory group that makes recommendations on problematic fish populations, like swordfish and orange roughy.
Perhaps the best known sea creature sold by Darden is lobster, and the crustacean is also unique in that it is almost entirely wild-caught. Darden has made moves to block the unregulated import of Caribbean lobster that are not of reproductive age, a key requirement for lobster populations in U.S. waters that help sustain the population.
However, Darden does still struggle with sustainable seafood issues. Swordfish, which Red Lobster stopped serving several years ago, is still on the menu at the Capital Grill, recent Darden acquisition. And many fish species, like salmon and red snapper, are purchased from unregulated fish farms with questionable environmental practices.
But overall Darden’s mission to pursue sustainable seafood is recognized as industry-leading, which is an important role for the biggest kid on the block, and one that can be extremely influential. With scientists predicting the collapse of the world’s fisheries by 2050 if they are harvested at today’s rates, Darden views their efforts to move towards sustainability as vital to their survival.
For more info on serving sustainable seafood in your restaurant, check out this Back Burner post.