Filed Under: Seafood

Falling for the Swordfish Campaign: Hook Lie and Sinker

Remember the ALAR-on-Apples Scare of 1989? If the group that ignited that hoax asked you to convince your customers to order less shrimp, flounder and red snapper, you’d probably tell them to go fish, right? Maybe not. Today, more than 270 restaurateurs are working with those “alar-mists” in a campaign to tighten federal regulations on how seafood is harvested and sold… and they don’t even know it!

These hundreds of restaurateurs actively support “Give Swordfish a Break,” a publicity campaign they believe is designed to temporarily limit swordfish consumption until their numbers increase. They have voluntarily pulled swordfish from their menus. They’ve even urged other operators to do the same.

What they don’t realize is that the stated goal of the campaign “is to raise awareness about the problem of over-fishing by using the swordfish as an emblematic species.” In other words, according to the activists, this is only the beginning.

What is the real goal of the campaign? The seafood activists have told restaurateurs the “Swordfish” campaign was temporary and limited to swordfish. Many swallowed the bait. Nora Puillon, owner of a trendy Washington D.C. restaurant, observed “This is a break, not a boycott.” But the activists had something else in mind. Listen to Vikki Spruill, executive director of SeaWeb, the campaign’s front group:

“SeaWeb’s goal in the campaign is for consumers to become more involved in the over-fishing crisis [her view], and we think the best way to do that is through the food on their plates.”

Spruill once described SeaWeb as “a fabulous opportunity for me to design what is really just a big communications campaign to help oceans.”

The “Swordfish” activists’ list of over-fished seafood includes: Cod, scallops, sole, sea bass, sturgeon, redfish, red snapper, and monkfish. They also recommend addressing “the problems caused by shrimp production” with labeling, boycotts, and an “eco-tax” to recoup environment costs associated with shrimp farming.

There’s another problem with this campaign: “Swordfish are not considered endangered.” That’s according to Rebecca Lent, the director of the Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which regulates commercial fishing. About the “Swordfish” campaign, Lent said, “I think it will end up having a detrimental effect on our fishermen… I know a lot of [U.S. fishermen] who have lost their jobs already.”

Even other environmental groups admit that the “Swordfish” campaign misses the mark. Thor Lassen, president of Ocean Trust explains, “It’s a world market. If the U.S. stopped eating swordfish, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world will stop eating or fishing. It will just shift.”

Who is behind the “Give Swordfish a Break” Campaign? The “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign is the product of Fenton Communications, a Washington DC-based PR firm known for promoting groups like Angola’s Marxist regime, the anti-smoking lobby and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the environmental activists behind the Alar campaign.

Other Fenton campaigns:

  • “Hamburger Roulette,” in which an anti-beef group overstated the risk of E. Coli by 17 times.
  • The book Our Stolen Future, which warns of the effects of synthetic chemicals on the environment. According to the book’s author, “There is no such thing as objective reporting. I’ve become even more crafty about finding the voices to say the things I think are true. That’s my subversive mission.”

    Art Silverman, former communications director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been one of Fenton Communications’ key staffers since 1996. You may not know Silverman, but you know his work. He’s the guy who labeled fettuccini Alfredo a “heart attack on a plate.”


  • On the “Swordfish” campaign: “I think when you tell people they’re eating babies and destroying a population, they tend to get very concerned.”
  • The Fenton company motto: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make your own.”
  • “I think we will soon have as mainstream wisdom that the major source of the great increase in cancer rates… is from carcinogens in the food, air and water.” (According to the National Academy of Sciences, he’s plain wrong.)
    The NRDC rides again!

    With the help of David Fenton, president of Fenton Communications, NRDC terrified parents across America in 1989 by claiming Alar-treated apples would give their children cancer. CBS’s “60 Minutes” called Alar “the most potent cancer-causing agent in the food supply today.”

    It was a lie. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one would have to eat 50,000 pounds of apples a day over a lifetime to contract cancer from Alar. But that didn’t stop Fenton from achieving his goal: making money for NRDC and for himself.

    After some apple growers went broke, he boasted, “We designed [the campaign] so that revenue would flow back to NRDC from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900-number and the Donahue show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenues from it.”

    And now he’s helping the NRDC go after seafood.

  • More on “Seafood”

    Vegans Have Blood on Their Hands

    Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    A Veganism Story that’s Wrong

    Posted March 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Consumers Union Wrong Again on Food Science

    Posted January 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm