Shifting Baselines

Yesterday, Greenpeace-USA released a report criticizing supermarkets for buying unsustainable seafood. Greenpeace-Canada also released a similar report, which I spoke about this morning on CTV news. As I said in the interview, if we want sustainable seafood to become something more than just yuppie food, we’re going to have to affect behavior on a big scale and supermarkets (where, in Canada, for instance, two-thirds of seafood is sold) are one medium for doing this. One way to motivate supermarkets to change their buying behavior is through affecting their reputation with negative messaging. On the other hand, we must ask the question of why we are able to buy unsustainable seafood to begin with–and this ultimately is a failure of national and international governance.

In the U.S. report, Greenpeace ranked supermarkets according to their seafood procurement policies. Whole Foods did the best, though they only scored 36.5 out of 100. Some of the lowest ranking supermarkets include Price Chopper, Publix, and, rather surprisingly (or not, if you look closely at their seafood), Trader Joe’s (just saw Orange roughy for sale there). Yesterday, I spoke with Greenpeace’s John Hocevar who said the supermarket representatives seem to recognize that there is a problem and have not been vociferously against the report or its finding. In other words, they are over step one (denial) of the 12-step program in weaning the addiction to unsustainable seafood. Read more about the report and its findings here.


  1. #1 Gavin
    June 18, 2008

    The seafood community welcomes an open and educated dialog about the importance of sustainability but it should be noted that Greenpeace�s report is deeply flawed and is actually part of a campaigned of public relations extortion. I�ll explain: before the report came out Greenpeace contacted the retailers and threatened them, demanding that they stop selling half of all seafood or face a low ranking on the Greenpeace retailer survey. Well, every single retailer failed. Not a single retailer past. As Jennifer noted, even the highest ranked store ended up with a 36. That�s because none of the stores complied with Greenpeace�s unreasonable demands, so Greenpeace couldn�t quite give them a passing grade now could they? That type of activism is not constructive and actually sets efforts to promote sustainable seafood back.
    National Fisheries Institute

  2. #2 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    June 18, 2008

    Speaking of public relations extortion, it should be noted that the National Fisheries Institute is the primary lobbying agency for the U.S. fishing industry. This used to be somewhat clear on their website, but nowadays they have replaced their real mission with this fluff:

    The National Fisheries Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to education about seafood safety, sustainability, and nutrition. From vessels at sea to your favorite seafood restaurant, our diverse member companies bring delicious fish and shellfish to American families. NFI promotes the US Dietary Guidelines that suggest Americans include fish and shellfish in their diets twice per week for longer, healthier lives.

    I find it more than a little sad that the NFI, if it is so committed to sustainability, would find itself investing in a counterattack on Greenpeace rather than negotiating a constructive (and perhaps regulation-driven) way forward to repair altered marine ecosystems and ensure wild seafood for tomorrow and all future generations.

  3. #3 Milan
    June 18, 2008

    Just because no retailers met the ‘unreasonable’ standards Greenpeace used does not mean they are inappopriate. Moving from the present system to a genuinely sustainable one would require massive change. Letting retailers believe that they have done enough just by moving a bit in the right direction is counterproductive in the long run.

  4. #4 Kate Wing
    June 18, 2008

    Trader Joe’s has long been a thorn in the side of sustainable seafood. They’re completely impervious to public pressure, be it from Greenpeace or local fishermen. It’s always been surprising to me that a company that fashions itself as the “discount Whole Foods” (to the point that they co-locate their stores, whenever possible) continues to sell fish that have been on the Seafood Watch red list for years.

    That NFI post looks like a piece of autospam, what with the mistaken spelling and odd signature. Are they running a computerized response to the Greenpeace report?

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