About Phillips Foods
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.