Greenpeace Rocks

A couple weeks ago, Greenpeace invaded the Brussels Seafood Expo and hung signs calling attention to the dismal state of tuna fisheries. Just a week later, Greenpeace-USA announced its forthcoming publication that ranks U.S. supermarkets in terms of procuring sustainable seafood. This is an analogue to the U.K. campaign that has so far been one of my favorite market-based seafood initiatives (read about it here) because it uses negative messaging to affect reputation.

Last week, I spoke with Greenpeace-USA's John Hocevar, who is spearheading the U.S. initiative. He revealed Greenpeace's motivation for the market-based work, the seafood industry's reaction to the coup in Brussels, and his own patterns of consumption. Here is our Q & A:

johnhocevar.jpgTell me about Greenpeace's latest efforts to promote sustainable seafood:

We're producing a report assessing U.S. supermarkets in terms of the sustainability of their seafood, and using it as leverage to make changes. The markets work for us is a way to support policy change and change to the sector as a whole. We like quick victories like getting a major retailer to stop selling an unsustainable product, or provocative actions like we did in Brussels, but these will not be meaningful in and of themselves without the policy component.

So how does Greenpeace balance governments and markets?

Either one without the other is going to be limited. Currently, we have eight Regional Fisheries Management Offices (RFMOs) in the U.S. and each is dominated by industry. So we also need to drive change from areas industry does not control and they need to feel pressure from other avenues. The markets work for us is ultimately a way to support policy change and change the sector as a whole. It also sparks public conversation about key issues.

How do you keep the pressure on?

The supermarket sector is big and diverse and gives us a lot of targets. And there is some fierce competition among regional players in areas with the largest populations and a great potential to shake things up and help get companies to take action.

How do you measure impact?

Many of our conversations with industry involve incremental reforms, asking companies to switch their sourcing for a particular species to less destructive fishing gear types or less depleted stocks. But, when it's an issue of demand, or a species with life history characteristics that make it highly vulnerable to overfishing, such as with Orange roughy, we will do what we can to end the fishery.

This seems like a position many other groups do not or cannot take. Any thoughts on why?

Our independence is extremely important to us. Greenpeace doesn't take money from businesses, corporations, or government. We've been around for 36 years. This is not because we think all business is bad, of course, but because we want to remain fully independent.

What about the coup at Brussels?

The Brussels action went really well. Some people were obviously unhappy but it was clear that this tactical move really did raise the stakes a bit and communicated a new level of urgency to the tuna industry. All the seafood reps were saying they were glad that Greenpeace was there because the industry has problems. Many of them are still in denial, though, and aren't aware that sometimes they are part of the problem too.

Do you eat seafood?

No. The rest of our U.S. oceans team all eats seafood, and two of them are former fishermen, but I haven't eaten seafood in over twenty years.

Do you have hope for wild fisheries and sustainable seafood?

I spent 10 years working with Students for a Free Tibet and I never had a moment of true despair but these ocean issues are gruesome. Overfishing and habitat destruction have already done so much damage to marine ecosystems. Awareness of the crisis is slowly increasing, but most of the fishing industry is fighting the changes that are the only hope for their future. Add global warming and acidification to that, and you've got a pretty bleak future. The good thing is that the tools to turn things around in our hands - ending bottom trawling, creating a network of marine reserves, switching to a more precautionary, ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, cracking down on pirate fishing, eliminating fisheries subsidies, and development of sustainable aquaculture that doesn't involve depletion of wild populations for feed. It looks like things will get worse before they get better, but the change in attitudes we're seeing in the seafood industry gives me reason for optimism.

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Hurray for Greenpeace! I've always felt that it is better to target businesses than consumers with programs like these. This is potentially a much more effective approach than for example the Seafood Watch cards.

The comments of Mr. Hocevar are excellent with regard to destructive fishing practices. He has seen them first hand in the Bering Sea and is knowledgeable about our habitat. Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with. The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction. Greenpeace is helping and helping the Bering Sea in it's cry. Mr. Hocevar is to be commended for his persistent advocacy.

By Patrick Pletnikoff (not verified) on 20 May 2008 #permalink

One of your favorite campaigns BECAUSE it uses negative messaging to affect reputation? Are you saying that using negative messaging is always the best approach?

Negative messaging is certainly not always the best approach but I think it has a definite place in communication strategy and is underutilized in today's corporate-friendly climate. This particular campaign (at least the one in the U.K.: Recipe for Disaster, etc.) is lovely because Greenpeace used negative messaging as an initial strategy and then followed up a year later with positive messaging for those retailers that chose to improve their seafood buying practices (and laid more negative messaging on the ones that didn't). We need the carrot and the stick, but most U.S.-based campaigns are not in a position (or choose not) to use the latter.

Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with. The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction. Greenpeace is helping and helping the Bering Sea in it's cry.

He has seen them first hand in the Bering Sea and is knowledgeable about our habitat. Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with. The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction. Greenpeace is helping and helping the Bering Sea in it's cry. Mr. Hocevar is to be commended for his persistent advocacy.

By Mark Dover (not verified) on 14 Aug 2010 #permalink

Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with.dd

He has seen them first hand in the Bering Sea and is knowledgeable about our habitat..

By Mecin clayn (not verified) on 14 Aug 2010 #permalink

The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction. Greenpeace is helping and helping the Bering Sea in it's cry. Mr. Hocevar is to be commended for his persistent advocacy

By dark onik (not verified) on 14 Aug 2010 #permalink

The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction.

Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with. The Bering Sea is sending us a message that calls all of us to action to stem the tide of destruction. Greenpeace is helping and helping the Bering Sea in it's cry.

One of your favorite campaigns BECAUSE it uses negative messaging to affect reputation? Are you saying that using negative messaging is always the best approach?

He has seen them first hand in the Bering Sea and is knowledgeable about our habitat. Our ecosystem is sensitive and must be managed accordingly or we all face consequences we are not prepared to deal with.

I think people differ greatly on this issue. For example, if it were completely unidentifiable as my own, I would have no problem with a picture of my naked ass being posted on the Internet. Others would be absolutely horrified by the prospect.

I think people differ greatly on this issue. For example, if it were completely unidentifiable as my own, I would have no problem with a picture of my naked ass being posted on the Internet. Others would be absolutely horrified by the prospect.