MONTREAL - Supermarket operator Metro Inc. (TSX:MRU.A) has joined other major food retailers like Wal-Mart and Loblaws (TSX:L) in adopting a sustainable fisheries policy under which it will stop selling threatened species.

"Starting today, Metro will temporarily withdraw seven threatened species," the Quebec-based chain said in making the announcement Thursday.

Species being banned from sale indefinitely are Atlantic cod (West), bluefin tuna, orange roughy, Chilean seabass, New Zealand hoki, skate and shark.

"These species will be substituted with other products and might be reintroduced in the future if scientific reports indicate that their stocks have climbed back up to acceptable levels," Metro said.

The new policy is being introduced gradually and Metro expects to have it fully implemented in its supermarkets and discount stores across Ontario and Quebec by June 2011.

Under the policy, Metro said it will only offer consumers fresh and frozen, wild and farmed seafood products from sustainable fisheries and that all suppliers will be required to sign a code of conduct attesting to their commitment to the new policy.

"To facilitate the traceability of its seafood products, Metro has developed a new, more transparent labelling system to help consumers make informed choices," it added.

In addition to the usual information, labels will now include the scientific name, the product's origin and the fishing type used among other things.

The move was applauded by Greenpeace, which said it now leaves only Costco Canada among major food retailers "that refuses to take any such action," and only Sobeys continuing to sell Chelean sea bass.

"It's encouraging to see Metro implementing its policy and taking the issue of overfishing seriously," said Sarah King, Greenpeace oceans campaigner.

"Metro's stopping the sale of Atlantic cod in particular shows a commitment to the future health of Canada's fish stocks. We are asking all retailers still selling this species to follow suit," King said.

Meanwhile, to ensure its decisions are based on an objective analysis, Metro said it will take into account not only official scientific opinions but also the viewpoints of other stakeholders, including governments, NGOs and suppliers.

"Renowned independent experts, including Jean-Claude Brethes, a sea sciences professor at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, were also consulted," it added.

Robert Sawyer, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, described the new the sustainable fisheries policy as "an important milestone."

"This initiative is proof that we want to go beyond the simple role of distributor and become a player in sustainable development, " Sawyer said. "The adoption of a sustainable fisheries policy is consistent with our corporate responsibility approach."

With over $11 billion in annual sales and more than 65,000 employees, Metro Inc. is a leader in the food and pharmaceutical sectors in Quebec and Ontario, where it operates a network of some 600 grocery stores under several banners, including Metro, Metro Plus, GP, Super C and Food Basics. It has more than 250 pharmacies, mainly under the Brunet, The Pharmacy and Drug Basics banners.

Metro stock was down 80 cents at $45.61 in afternoon trading Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.