About Phillips Foods
Corporate Responsibility
Sustainability and Aquaculture Q&A with Ed Rhodes

Ed Rhodes is co-director of our Division of Aquaculture & Sustainability. A well-respected marine biologist, he, along with Rob Garrison, is in charge of the sustainability program at Phillips. Together, they develop then execute company policies for sustainable seafood sourcing and evaluate sustainability of aquaculture and harvest fisheries.

Rhodes has served as the national aquaculture coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, an organization with a mandate to conserve, protect and manage marine life. His experience also includes more than 20 years in research, focused primarily on shellfish, at the National Marine Fisheries Service Lab in Connecticut.

What is your mission at Phillips?

Rob and I were hired in 2007 to head up this division. We thought 60 to 70 percent of what we were going to do was aquaculture, but sustainability has become a larger part of our work and our mission. That leadership comes from Steve Phillips. The necessity for sustainability is very real. He saw what happened to fish, oysters and crabs in Chesapeake Bay. Phillips is a family-run business, so sustainability is an intimate concern for this company. They want to ensure that Phillips is viable and strong for generations to come, so it’s imperative to ensure the sustainability of its resources. The second motivation for this mission is equally important—Phillips’ customers are asking about the sustainability of our seafood sources, and we need to have answers for them.

Do all of the crab fisheries that Phillips works with use sustainable practices?

A lot of the fisheries are data-deficient—we just don’t have enough information on them to know the answer to that. For those that we suspect are not sustainable, we do the necessary research to find out the real situation, and then if necessary, we help them. Phillips’ strategy is to make investments in these fisheries to bring them to sustainability. This is where sustainability has to walk in step with good corporate citizenship. Rather than abandoning these fisheries, we help bring them up to our standards of sustainability.

What is sustainable aquaculture?

It’s aquatic farming without negative environmental consequences, so the surrounding area is not harmed by the activity. Important lessons have been learned from the early mistakes made in the aquaculture of shrimp and salmon. We choose to grow species that are best for sustainability. Our aquaculture program includes oysters, which filter water, abalone, which eat seaweed, and barramundi, a species that doesn’t require a lot of protein from other fish sources.

How does Phillips manage its resource of wild species?

In 2008, we launched ASSET, which is our team that assesses the sustainability of both our wild-caught and aquacultured species. Through this program, we have eliminated sourcing of non-sustainably fished grouper. We’re currently evaluating tuna, mahi mahi and crab from specific regions. The goal of ASSET is to have all of the Phillips products come from sustainable sources. Some already are, but others are still in review by ASSET. Important in the Phillips sourcing policy is the recognition that some fisheries that may not be sustainable now and that are important to us may require investment to move them in a measurable way to full sustainability. We have done this in Indonesia, where Phillips invested to form an association of crab producers organized around sustainability. This association has recently agreed to fund a Marine Stewardship Council sustainability pre-assessment of that crab fishery, and is supporting a number of educational and research programs.

Why are you so passionate about the sustainability of marine life?

I grew up on the coast in Connecticut. When I was 16, I built an oyster reef out of rocks. I then planted oysters, and was amazed by the marine life that flourished because of it, including starfish. I did a cool starfish-generation project at school, and through that got turned on to the marine lab that was close by. I started working there part time during the school year, and full time during summer breaks. I just was fascinated by it all, and here I am, 40-plus years later, still fascinated.

Ed Rhodes and Rob Garrison work with a local biologist on Pramuka Island in Indonesia to grow small mangrove plants that both protect coasts from storm damage and create habitats for oysters, crabs and juvenile fish.