Filed Under: Seafood

Catch of the Day: Politically Correct Fish

If you read a recent Associated Press article about a seafood distributor called EcoFish, you may have thought a fishmonger that “helps people make meals that reflect their morals” was too good to be true. After all, EcoFish is only 8 months old, and it has already gained the endorsement of the National Audubon Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and Environmental Defense. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll find that this New Hampshire company is a perfect example of “black marketing.”

The EcoFish scam works like this:

  • They influence the mass media to tell you which fish are politically correct to serve and eat (click on AP story above).
  • They direct you to “approved” vendors that sell products at an inflated price.
  • They funnel a portion of the profits (25% in EcoFish’s case) to their friends at Audubon, WWF, and Environmental Defense — as “charitable” contributions.

Who is EcoFish, really?
EcoFish is the Chef’s Collaborative (CC). Remember them? This group of chefs-turned-activists uses scare tactics and mass media exposure to make your food choices align with their politics. They hold 9 out of 10 seats on EcoFish’s Chef Advisory Board. CC’s organizational principles recommend organic cooking ingredients and across-the-board cuts in meat consumption.

EcoFish is Environmental Defense. Rebecca Goldburg is the biggest professional activist on EcoFish’s Seafood Advisory Board. She runs Environmental Defense’s oceans program, and has publicly opposed many agricultural biotech advances that increase farm yields and insure food safety.

EcoFish is the David & Lucille Packard Foundation. This multi-billion-dollar foundation bankrolls the operations of most of EcoFish’s board members.

Following the conspiracy’s money
Marketing seafood nationwide is an expensive venture. And make no mistake: this conspiracy is all about marketing, not conservation. Nonprofits like SeaWeb and Environmental Defense influence public opinion to create an artificial demand for “eco-friendly” fish; elite chefs buy and serve it, under the guise of “social consciousness”; and foundation money keeps the “do-gooders” in the black. With the competition declared politically incorrect, EcoFish sells the “approved” product and returns part of the profits to the rest of the team — which can be counted on to continue repeating the mantra of over-fishing, conservation, and guilt- free EcoFish.

The Packard Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts are the two biggest fish in this particular foundation-money sea. Packard holds a seat on EcoFish’s board, as do several of its grantees. In addition, Packard has put over $150,000 directly into SeaWeb, and over $5 million into the National Audubon Society’s “Living Oceans” campaign (whose chairman, Carl Safina, also sits on EcoFish’s board).

The Pew Charitable Trusts has given over $4 million to SeaWeb. Pew has also heavily funded other organizations (like Audubon, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Oceans Campaign) whose programs are geared toward placing entire fish species off-limits, often without the science to back it up.

SeaWeb: Partners in fish-nannying
EcoFish isn’t the only group to attack seafood choices. Its cousin SeaWeb — the press office for the seafood Nanny Culture — was created by Fenton Communications, the same high-powered Washington PR firm that brought us the Alar-on-apples food scare.

SeaWeb recently wrapped up its discredited “Give Swordfish a Break!” campaign. Now the organization is trying to make our seafood choices for us all over again, through a new web site (deceptively) named the Seafood Choices Alliance, dedicated to telling consumers which fish are nanny-approved.

Why should we trust SeaWeb?

  • The “Give Swordfish a Break!” promotion was based on the myth that Atlantic swordfish were being over-fished to the point of extinction. But according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, that simply isn’t true.
  • Vicki Spruill, SeaWeb’s executive director, admitted to a St. Petersburg Times reporter in 1998 that swordfish was chosen because it would capture the public’s imagination, not because it was in any danger.
  • Although SeaWeb declared that more than 700 restaurants had agreed to stop serving swordfish, the Washington Post reported that, “like all fish stories, this one turned out to be a bit exaggerated.” Of the 78 restaurants in the DC area purported to be SeaWeb enrollees, about a quarter told the Post that they did indeed serve swordfish; some said they had reneged when their customers asked for it; others didn’t remember having signed SeaWeb’s pledge at all.

‘Third parties’ in disguise
Even if you’re inclined to pay a steep premium for “socially conscious” seafood (CC’s Charlie Trotter, for instance, says he’s happy to pay 50 to 100 percent more than usual), you’re taking EcoFish’s word that its overpriced salmon is exactly what they say it is. Enter the world of “third-party” certification. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) issues a seal of approval for fisheries that adhere to certain environmental guidelines — including, of course, the myth of protecting “over-fished” and “endangered” species. So far, EcoFish is the only fish supplier to be MSC-approved. Any guesses where MSC gets its money? That’s right: thePackard Foundation. Over $1 million in 1999 alone.

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