Last week, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF)—a group of scientists, fisheries experts, and industry leaders working together to implement sound fishing practices that support the long-term health and conservation of fisheries around the globe—highlighted two encouraging pieces of news. Thefirst was the remarkable progress made in innovating environmentally friendly—and even biodegradable—Fish Aggregating Devices (or FADs), in an encouraging marriage of efficiency and sustainability, science and commerce. The second was a report on how ISSF is working with scientists in food-insecure parts of the world to turn previously discarded fish called “bycatch” into sources of critical nutrition.
Around the same time, the notorious global fundraising behemoth Greenpeace announced a “ranking” of Canadian canned tuna brands based on subjective criteria and a hidden methodology. It received little coverage in the press.
The contrast here is instructive.
The National Fisheries Institute and the Tuna Council created Tuna For Tomorrow because the health of our fisheries is our highest priority. As part of our commitment to meeting global tuna demand in an environmentally sound way, we work with organizations like ISSF to make sure we’re doing all we can on that score. In our part of the ocean, the news is good: stocks of skipjack and albacore are plentiful, and are being fished sustainably.
But while we’ve been engaged in this important work, irresponsible activist groups like Greenpeace have spent decades making scientifically baseless claims about the seafood community, raising millions of dollars by creating the false impression that tuna stocks are endangered while ignoring countervailing evidence, and using threats, boycotts, and reckless publicity stunts to push for methods that are neither sustainable nor practical.
We created this platform in part to hold such groups accountable for their actions in the public discourse. In the years since we began this mission, more and more stakeholders—from retailers and consumers, to community groups and local and national governments—have come to recognize Greenpeace’s distortions for what they are. But there is much work left to be done. In particular, we believe the environmental and industry press has an ethical and professional responsibility to confront false, misleading, and irresponsible information as it arises. But all too often, coverage centers on agenda driven claims and gross mischaracterizations made by radical activists. These claims mislead consumers and we have a duty to correct the record.
Specifically, we believe these issues deserve closer examination:
Despite their professed regard for the environment, Greenpeace’s preferred methods are often impractical and environmentally inferior to current strategies. A University of California study found that the fishing methods favored by Greenpeace are extremely carbon intensive, consuming approximately three to four times more fuel than boats using more efficient methods Greenpeace opposes. Is Greenpeace comfortable recommending fishing practices that create significantly more pollution?
Each year, Greenpeace issues a rating system for tuna companies based on a shifting set of criteria. Yet in a departure from established norms in the scientific and academic community, the organization refuses to release its methodology. Why?
The practicality of the fishing methods Greenpeace prefers also raises questions about the organization’s motives. The consequences of the broad adoption of fishing methods preferred by radical environmentalists would be to drastically limit global supplies, making it more difficult for consumers to access one of the most affordable, nutritious forms of seafood there is. Does that bother Greenpeace?
Greenpeace’s calls to eat less seafood are at odds with recommendations made by the Food and Drug Administration as well as leading groups in the medical and scientific communities—all of whom warn Americans are already consuming dangerously little seafood. Peer-reviewed research has shown low seafood consumption is responsible for up to 84,000 preventable deaths each year, and is associated with poorer cognitive and developmental outcomes for young children. How does Greenpeace justify its advice in light of this expert consensus?
As long as these issues persist, Tuna for Tomorrow will be a place where they are discussed openly, honestly, and with an invitation to all comers to participate in the conversation. While we’ve made great progress, both in advancing sustainable fisheries and combatting misinformation from opportunist activist groups, our work is far from done. And we aren’t going anywhere.
We’ll give Greenpeace credit for one thing—they’re flexible. When coverage of their arbitrary report on seafood sourcing among grocery retailers completely dried up, they tried to retrofit the tactic for the food service industry. When companies got wise and stopped subjecting themselves to Greenpeace’s cycle of abuse, GP stopped even pretending to seek engagement with those companies and skipped right to attacking them.
And now, just a week after their latest fact-free “ranking” of major seafood brands blew it by ignorantly focusing on transshipment from purse seine boats, Greenpeace is showing its flexibility once again. It’s rehashing the same cut-and-paste attack on longline boats instead. They’re even getting the band back together, their big union allies.
When one target stops cooperating, Greenpeace picks another name out of the hat. When an issue fails to resonate, they don’t ramp up their commitment to the issue… they just change issues. When they get it wrong on the facts, they just make up new facts.
Maybe it’s because the substance of the attacks don’t matter to Greenpeace, only their effectiveness at driving mouse clicks to that “donate” button.
But reporters, Greenpeace donors, conscientious consumers, and anyone who cares about real seafood sustainability should ask Greenpeace how they expect to be taken seriously when the fishing methods they have long advocated were just found by scientists at the University of California to have a worse environmental impact than the status quo?
We know Greenpeace never did a single environmental or economic impact study on that issue, because we spent years calling on them to do so. But what about this new call to end transshipments from longline boats? Do they plan to learn from their mistakes on the FAD free campaign and actually study whether their demand is consistent with their own purported environmental priorities? We’re not going to hold our breath. We suspect Greenpeace is already at work on its next fundraising scheme, ready to roll it out whenever this one outlives its usefulness.
Their rehashed attack on Walmart is just the latest example. Greenpeace’s Canadian franchise recently created a Twitter account handled “Walmart Great Values” (@WMGreatValueS), which brazenly copies trademarked content from the chain’s actual grocery brand, Great Value, with only minor distinctions that could easily escape casual observers. Moreover, the account page contains no indication that it is a parody, spoof, or commentary account, as the Twitter terms of service clearly require.
The account even links to a fake website, GreatValues.info, that immediately redirects to a landing page on Greenpeace Canada’s site—where hoodwinked readers are just a click away from Greenpeace’s latest fundraising pitch.
Another funny thing: For an account that’s a couple of months old, it sure has a lot of followers. Over 13,000, to be exact. And these are not exactly Greenpeace diehards, but a seemingly random assortment without any unifying traits or characteristics. In fact, the fake Walmart account is followed by fewer than a dozen Greenpeace or Greenpeace Canadafollowers. Let’s say that again: fewer than a dozen users follow both the Fake Walmart and Greenpeace accounts. It sure looks like Greenpeace purchased these followers, one of the hallmarks of these fake accounts.
Despite the fake news disseminated by Greenpeace, posing as Walmart, the reality is that tuna is caught sustainably all over the world, everyday and the severely restrictive methods Greenpeace favors would actually greatly increase the carbon footprint of the industry. No amount of fake news can change that.
While Greenpeace surely justifies to donors its pioneering use of fake news to raise funds, let’s keep in mind who their brethren in the faux headlines business are; race baiters, hoaxers and political extremists. Wonder if Greenpeace will highlighted their new found friends in its annual report this year?
As Greenpeace gears up for another rank’n’spank effort where it passes judgment on which canned tuna brands are supposedly the most and least sustainable (with no independent scientific input) watch out for another round of fake news from Greenpeace.
Another Greenpeace publicity scheme prepares to end in failure and embarrassment. For the last several years, the global fundraising group had tried to create buzz for a makeshift top-ten list of sorts — ranking grocery retailers on seafood sourcing practices.
At first, it got a little coverage from their friends in the activist media. But after NFI alerted editors to some obvious problems in the methodology, media attention fell off a cliff. What sort of problems? First, the “survey” Greenpeace used with the retailers (read: the targets) was completely arbitrary and the underlying measurements hidden from view. Or to put it in journalism terms: fabricated. Second, those companies that responded in good faith to the survey were actually singled out for further abuse and hostility from Greenpeace.
Turns out that asking reporters to deceive readers and squandering donor money for zero results isn’t a very smart strategy.
So what did the geniuses at Greenpeace do next? They decided to use the exact same trick, but this time to go after foodservice companies, hoping for a different result. Greenpeace’s attempts to strong-arm retailers into agreeing with their unsubstantiated views on sustainability were an abject failure – and was finally scrapped after retailers realized the futility of responding to Greenpeace only brought on more attacks. Retailers began sitting quietly until the fundraising stunt was over – refusing to be part of the cycle of abuse. There was simply no upside to negotiating with activists who are happy to rake companies over the coals whether they cooperate or not.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace is so busy with arbitrary rankings that they’ve never done a single environmental or economic impact study of the fishing methods they say they prefer. Methods, like pole and line fishing, which would require vastly more boats and greater fuel consumption. The tuna industry, on the other hand, has worked for years with scientists and ocean experts, industry leaders, and fisheries champions to craft effective, enforceable, and verifiable sustainability practices – which is why bycatch rates are at historic lows.
But it’s been more than 1880 days since they were invited by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to participate in the ongoing dialogue about tuna fisheries and sustainability. Greenpeace refuses to join the grown-ups at the table to discuss real sustainability studies. This would clearly take too much time away from hitting donors up for cash.
Donors should take note of their failure to work seriously on sustainability issues and the myriad of legal, ethical, financial and reputational problems facing Greenpeace around the globe – from losing millions in donor money on financial speculation, to criminally desecrating the Nazca Lines, to facing an ongoing federal racketeering and fraud lawsuit. Can Greenpeace explain why foodservice companies should risk their professional reputation to work with them?
Greenpeace, after all, proudly states that it has “no permanent friends.” Which means that one capitulation is never enough. Greenpeace claims a victory, and fundraises off each win, but they inevitably come back—after a few months, or a few years—with a new round of attacks, demands and even standards.
Luckily, the example of Greenpeace’s failed retailer rank’n’spank is out there for all to see. The cost of “cooperating” far exceeds that of ignoring them all together, especially considering that traditional and social media coverage of their retailer-focused attacks diminished to the point of non-existence. Quite simply, Greenpeace is a one-trick pony.
If you go to the Greenpeace page announcing their latest assault on a company—this time it’s Wal-Mart and its seafood sourcing policy—the very first thing you’ll see is “DONATE” and “GIVE TO GREENPEACE” splashed across the top of the page. It’s what they’re about. The sun rises in the east, it sets in the west, and Greenpeace shakes down companies to juice fundraising. The targets change, but the tactics have remained the same for years.
With Greenpeace that means a particularly vicious cycle: Assault a company with spurious charges, secure concessions in exchange for a promise to halt the attack, fundraise off this “victory”, rinse, repeat. As too many companies have learned the hard way, Greenpeace has, in its own words, has “no permanent friends.” More fitting, perhaps, would be to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: With Greenpeace it’s always “We’ll be back.”
As ever when it comes to canned tuna, Greenpeace’s feigned concern is alleged excessive “bycatch” as a result of the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs)—small, harmless free floating rafts or buoys used to attract fish. But Greenpeace provides no scientific data to back up this claim, because there isn’t any. Indeed, the best peer-reviewed science finds FADs have bycatch rates similar to, or less than, other fishing methods, and don’t have a significant impact on threatened marine species.
What FADs are connected with is greater efficiency, lower fuel costs, and a smaller carbon footprint for the industry.
So why does Greenpeace brag about hunting down and vandalizing these devices with a fleet of speedboats, helicopters, drones, remote controlled submarines, and a gas-guzzling former Soviet naval vessel?
Could it be to distract attention from the fact that they’ve never done a single environmental or economic impact study of the fishing methods they say they prefer? Methods that would require vastly more boats and greater fuel consumption?
The tuna industry has worked for years with scientists and ocean experts, industry leaders, and fisheries champions to craft effective, enforceable, and verifiable sustainability practices – which is why bycatch rates are at historic lows. Greenpeace, meanwhile, refuses to join the grown-ups at the table.
It might take time away from hitting donors up for cash.
Greenpeace is touting the latest in its long line of opaque, subjective, and hopelessly flawed “reports” on retail seafood. This year’s model may have lost the juvenile aesthetic and top hat donning cartoon fish of previous iterations, but the substance—or lack thereof—remains much the same. It is still first and foremost a fundraising tool and evidence of that can be found in its erratic methodology and narrative.
Where Greenpeace’s “CATO report” does break new ground it is highly troubling. No longer content to hide its dangerous ulterior agenda behind a thin veneer of inference and insinuation, Greenpeace is now openly calling for Americans to “eat less seafood.” This not only destroys whatever shreds of credibility Greenpeace had left, but puts its fringe activists at odds with just about every medical and nutritional expert in world including the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s one thing to advocate for misguided shopping practices, but when it actively abets an ongoing public health crisis that is impairing fetal cognitive development and contributing to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, Greenpeace is crossing a dangerous line.
The rest of the “report” consists of the same kind of unsupported and ideologically motivated reasoning we’ve come to expect from Greenpeace. The document purports to rank seafood retailers according to objective empirical standards (right down to the decimal point), but provides zero explanation on how scores are actually calculated. This is especially ironic considering “transparency” is one of the criteria on which retailers are judged, a value Greenpeace appears to support only selectively.
Where Greenpeace does give readers breadcrumbs about its methodology, it openly contradicts itself. Consider for instance that the “report” essentially admits that Greenpeace’s seafood “Red List” is useless. The list is “not comprehensive” while at the same time fish appearing on it can be sourced in a “responsible” manner, by the group’s own admission. In other words, if a fish is not on the list it can still be bad, and if it is on the list it can still be good.
Similarly, in virtually the same breath, the “report” goes from urging retailers to source from Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) to saying that sourcing from FIPs just isn’t good enough. As anyone who has ever tried to engage Greenpeace on seafood sustainability knows, nothing is ever good enough. That’s why they have refused to take part in the invaluable sustainability work of the scientists, fishery experts, and environmental stakeholders at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
In this year’s report Greenpeace editorializes on labor practices without noting that our members do not and will not tolerate labor abuses or unfair practice, either inside their companies and or among their suppliers and partners.
Retailers are starting to realize the futility of dealing with the strong-arm tactics and capricious standards of Greenpeace, and have wisely stopped participating. There is simply no upside to negotiating with activists who are happy to rake companies over the coals whether they cooperate or not.
Worst of all, even as Greenpeace unscientifically and arbitrarily ranks retailers for their practices, it refuses to conduct environmental or economic impact studies of its own preferred fishery policies—perhaps because they know the methods they favor would hurt both the environment and ordinary American consumers.
The latest “CATO report” proves that Greenpeace has yet to learn from years of embarrassing missteps, and that they’ve moved onto even more dangerous ground in encouraging Americans to eat less seafood at a time when low seafood consumption is already putting Americans at risk. Retailers and the press have begun to take notice. Greenpeace donors will likely be next.
Never one to leave a fundraising opportunity un-exploited Greenpeace has seized on the, now famous, Shark Week in order to try to raises funds. This time the group is targeting canned tuna brands with unchecked rhetoric about shark bycatch. Its latest fundraising email tells would-be donors, “supporters like you have made great strides to protect sharks in the past few years.” What they omit from this solicitation is that the canned tuna brands support for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is where actual, not just fund raising, strides have been made.
A recent article by environmental activist Tim Zimmermann at Outside Magazine raises the question, “what fish can I eat?” Disregarding the overwhelming scientific consensus, Zimmermann gives the answer, “you should eat no fish at all.” Below are the top four things Outside Magazine got wrong about tuna.
1) Ahi tuna? “Almost all of it is caught on pelagic longlines, which are 40-plus miles of floating line dangling a baited hook every three feet. Longlines catch everything else in the habitat.” That’s called bycatch, a somewhat bloodless term for a fishing method that indiscriminately hooks as many as 150,000 sea turtles annually, along with tens of thousands of seabirds, whales, sharks, dolphins, and porpoises.
Tuna is caught using several different methods, and, according to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation can rate among the lowest bycatch rates for mass caught commercial fish. Furthermore, the United States canned tuna industry has long applied strict guidelines to reduce bycatch, including adhering to a stringent dolphin-safe practice that pledges companies “do not and will not utilize tuna caught in a manner that harms dolphins.”
2) Take albacore tuna. If it was caught by trolling or with a pole, in the North Atlantic or Pacific, Seafood Watch rates it a Best Choice. But if it was caught anywhere in the world on a longline—except off Hawaii and in the U.S. Atlantic, which have strict bycatch limits—it gets a red Avoid rating. Will the person selling you the fish know how it was caught and where, and can you be sure that person’s information is accurate?
Groups such as the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation [ISSF] are dedicated to ensuring that tuna stocks remain healthy and viable for future generations to enjoy. ISSF is made up of acclaimed scientists, leaders in industry, and environmental champions, all of whom work with the tuna industry providing technical support and the latest scientific work. Independently, the American tuna industry also works to maintain sustainable standards of fishing and have taken pledges to prevent harm against non-targeted fish.
3) There are a multitude of coastal zones around the globe where mussels can grow in abundance. And while they don’t pack the omega-3 wallop that salmon does, they do deliver a shot—three servings a week gets you to the recommended minimum. Another bonus: being low on the food chain, mussels have little mercury, more than 30 times less than larger predator species like swordfish and tuna.
There has never been a case of mercury poisoning, as the result of the normal consumption of commercial seafood, found in any peer-reviewed medical journal in the U.S. The scientific consensus points towards overwhelming evidence that increasing the amount of fish Americans eat would lead to better overall health.
4) I realize that an interesting thing happens when you approach seafood with sustainability and health in mind: you end up eating a diverse diet that pushes you lower down the food chain and away from the rut of salmon, shrimp, and tuna, the most commonly eaten seafood in the U.S.
One of reasons why tuna is so widely consumed is that it is accessible and versatile. Canned tuna represents a perfect combination of affordability, taste, and nutrition that few other products can match. By asking for the American public to stop eating as affordable as canned tuna, Zimmermann is asking for many to stop eating fish altogether, which would have serious health consequences.