WWF withdraws Stinky Fish video (Jan. 2008)

MSC not pleased & WWF doing the right thing… partly: Stinky Fish campaign video withdrawn…

 

First published January 21, 2008.

The WWF has yesterday (Tuesday January 22nd) removed the Stinky Fish video campaign from their website and from You Tube, without any statement explaining why. All that can now been seen is the puppet in action for a brief minute. This comes in response to a global seafood industry protest (in the US and Europe), and at the request of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which had not given its backing for the use its logo. However, whilst the video has been withdrawn, all the written documents are still displayed on its Stinky Fish campaign website. One can still read – answering the question ‘Is farmed fish better for the ocean than wild caught?’ – “Very often, farmed fish are NOT a good idea […]”. Friend of the Sea has also issued a statement yesterday to distanced itself from what it called “WWF’s MSC Everything else stinks” campaign, and demanded “more respect for consumers, the seafood industry and other certification schemes.” The MSC said “it regrets and apologises for any offence given by the campaign”… Sadly, the WWF’s very own statements are counterproductive and contradictory. When it disapproves of farmed fish – “as they are fed on fish meal made from other fish. Cannibals they be!!” – what does that make MSC-labelled Alaska salmon? Lets remind our readers that about a third (a massive 1.5 billion fish!) of Alaska salmon’s are bred in hatcheries and fed with commercial fish feeds before being released in the wild… Could the WWF please answer?

Launched last Thursday (January 17th), the WWF’s new muppet video showed Stinky Fish sniffing fish and shouting: “It stinks!” and conclude: “Just look for MSC label: everything else is stinky!”.

However, whilst the video has been withdrawn, all the written documents and its Q&A are still displayed on its Stinky Fish campaign website: One can still read, answering the question ‘Is farmed fish better for the ocean than wild caught?’: “Very often, farmed fish are NOT a good idea, as they are fed on fish meal made from other fish. Cannibals they be!! In other words, fish farming can be used to conceal unsustainable fishing practices in the wild. Farmed fish can also be more vulnerable to disease; sometimes large quantities of antibiotics are pumped into the water in fish farms.

Ironically, WWF introduces the Stinky Fish character by saying: “Hello there, I’m Stinky Fish, your guide to the minefield of exploitation, misinformation and plain outright confusion that is buying seafood.” In fact, misinformation and contributing to confusion is exactly what it did with the above misleading Q&A biased answer. Would there only be one type of ‘farmed fish’ to which one can compare one type of ‘wild fish’?!

‘Cannibals they be!!

Taking the devils’ advocate and even applying those over-simplistic criteria, what would the WWF say to the fact that a large proportion (roughly a third) of ‘wild’ Alaskan salmon (MSC-eco labelled) are in fact raised/farmed in hatcheries before being released in the wild; 1.5 billion of them a year in Alaska (65 million just north of the border with British Columbia), for the past few decades… How does WWF intend to inform consumers on these wild-farmed fish (the technical term is ‘ranched’)?

The problem, is that this is a ‘very hot potato’; politically in Alaska, and internationally for the MSC, among others. And we very much doubt these issues will be ‘touched’ by mainstream NGOs or industry organisation/politicians.

By casting the evil eye on ‘farmed fish’, one can also taint so-called ‘wild’ fish. But how exactly to you define ‘wild’ we may ask?… Last year when the melamine-in animal feeds provoked the largest-ever US FDA food recall and food safety alert, it became apparent that the answer was not so clear cut. It also highlighted the farmed/hatchery origin of many ‘wild’ Alaskan salmon, some of which were fed melamine-tainted feeds in 2007 and then released in the wild as it was ‘too late’ and/or the food safety risk was deemed so negligible as to be null.

Does the hatchery-origin of MSC-labelled ‘Alaska salmon’ thus change the WWF take – and support – for MSC eco-certified produces? According to its own statement, it should… Indeed many millions of ‘wild’ Alaska salmon were & are fed “on fish meal made from other fish. Cannibals they be!!”

Best left in the dark, hey!?

You see, things are not so simple… Indeed, discussing the issue of the sustainability of wild Pacific salmon (if we include Russia and Japan, it’s about 5 billion juvenile salmon that are released yearly in the wild), the biological ‘truth’ may not meet certain ‘ecologists’ or trade/fishermens’ arguments. Not to mention politicians.

There are many things riding on this topic. Alaska has declared a moratorium on finfish commercial aquaculture, as it’s fishing industry feels threatened by aquaculture. Thus, the State is resisting the development of offshore (‘open ocean’) aquaculture, as planned by the US National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007.  In Alaska, it is interesting to note that the authorities – the Alaska Department of Fish & Game – state that they do not ‘farm’, but rather they ‘rear’ salmon. “It is important to note that Alaska hatcheries do not “farm” fish. Fish are reared to a specific juvenile size and released to fresh water lakes and streams or to salt water […]” – said the ADF&G last June at the time of the melamine-in-fish-feed crisis.

The ‘truth’ is indeed all in the details; indeed… That’s why over-simplification and a non science-based populist approach to seafood and fisheries communication serves no purpose. Many have in the past made such mistakes: fishermen, anglers, aquaculturists and environmental NGOs and activists. Its time to sit and talk.

Such discussion also affects the legal and ecological ‘status’ of the five Pacific salmon species, for instance (and to stick to salmon). Didn’t a federal court judge in Washington rule last June that “a healthy hatchery population is not necessarily an indication of a healthy natural population.” Thus – to simplify that hatchery salmon can not “necessarily” be considered as ‘wild’ when it comes to seeking protection for the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

One can talk politics on the one hand, and science on the other. Indeed, by discussing ‘ranching’ and the release of hatchery-‘reared’ salmon, this takes us further down the topic of how to define ‘species’ and ‘populations’; and the issue of the genetic make-up of a population/fishery crops up … (Read more news on Offshore Aquaculture,Wild vs. farmed’,  or Sustainable Fisheries from the SeafoodIntelligence.com News Database, among others).

 Background, PREVIOUSLY on SeafoodIntelligence’s Database:

Other facts about MSC-certified Alaska salmon (gathered from the MSC’s website):

  •   “Alaska salmon is the product most demanded by commercial buyers and the most versatile – currently there are 360 MSC-labelled salmon products available as smoked, fresh, frozen, canned, roe and ready-meal options.
  •  “Alaska salmon is the most widely marketed fishery that is certified under the MSC programme – MSC-labelled salmon is available in 21 countries around the world.
  •  “The [Alaska salmon] fishery in 2006 was worth $276 million, landed 287,000 Metric tons and had 11,300 commercial permits.

While we agree that there is a need for WWF’s noble intention to inform consumers to correct ‘misinformation and plain outright confusion’ there is about seafood safety and facts; sadly we have to say that on this one, WFF did a blunder… and created its own outlandish misinformation.

The US media Seafood News comments that the “response [withdrawing the Stinky Fish video] shows that both these organizations realize the goal of sustainable seafood cannot be obtained without the support and participation of the seafood industry. Although some will be suspicious of working with any outside NGO, the responsiveness of both the MSC and WWF should be taken for what they are – evidence of a continued desire to work with the industry on a common goal. The fact that both organizations recognized and attempted to fix their error is to their credit.”

In the UK Monday, the trade organisation Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) commented that the campaign was “confusing, rather than educating” for consumers.

The MSC Chief Executive, Rupert Howes, is quoted as having to apologize to the industry for the campaign, and has asked the WWF to remove the MSC logo and all references to the MSC from the campaign. It was done. He added that the MSC is deeply sorry for ‘any offence’ the campaign has caused and ‘is taking actions in response to the industry complaints.’

The MSC said “it regrets and apologises for any offence given by the campaign to all those partners and colleagues in the seafood industry who work extremely hard to ensure sustainable and legal fishing that results in high quality seafood products in the market.”

The WWF only partly acted on that one. As we’ve said above, some materials remains freely available. Answering another question (‘Should I stop eating seafood?’) in its Q&A, Stinky Fish says: “Well I’m a little biased on this, but there’s no need to stop eating seafood because sustainably mananged and responsibly caught seafood is available. And easy way to find some of the good stuff is looking for the MSC ecolabel. Asking for MSC will help push this industry to change even more. […]”

In another comment it says: “[…] Perhaps some of your friends and family do eat fish? If so you can tell them about MSC-certified seafood.”

Stinky Fish/WWF continues the promotion of the MSC in the Q&A. Not a bad thing in itself we add; but a ‘bad thing’ if that’s the only thing promoted (this was written with the same ink jet as ‘everything else is stinky!’ – now edited out)

On that topic, read also this morning’s other article: Certification  : FTS demands from WWF “more respect for consumers, seafood industry & other certification schemes” (23.01.2008)

Answering the question “How is MSC fish better for the oceans?”, it answers: “Any fishery that is certified against the MSC environmental standard has to be managed in an environmentally responsible manner. Lots of happy, uninterrupted fishy sex must be facilitated! The ecological balance of any MSC fishery must be respected. And all relevant local, national and international laws and regulations must be respected. It can get pretty complex, and it’s not all black and white, but it’s really starting to work. If you want to know more, just visit MSC’s website.”

Thus, all in all and while we believe WWF to have taken the right first step by withdrawing the Stinky Fish video, some actions and communications still remain to be taken by WWF. The Stinky Fish campaign – well intentioned in concept – has backfired and created just that… a stink!

View the Q&As and statements from the WWF’s Stinky Fish Campaigns:

http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/marine/our_solutions/sustainable_fishing/stinky_fish/index.cfm

Read also Monday’s top story: Media & Lobbying  : BIASED STINKY FISH: Does WWF’s promotion of MSC ‘stink’? Campaign seems anything but impartial (21.01.2008).

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WAITING for DIRECTOR’s CUT… WWF’s muppet ‘acknowledges’ it “stirred up quite a stink!” –

First Published January 25, 2008

When one now (25.01.2008) visits the WWF’s Stinky Fish campaign website – one week after the was launched on January 17th – one will notice substantial changes: the main video has been withdrawn; and, now, a new message acknowledging it had provoked “quite a stir” has also been added.

However, there is no mention explaining why the decision was taken to withdraw the video; and why it was perceived offensive, by the own account of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) whose certification it was aimed to promote.

In the original cartoon chatter, Stinky Fish said: “It’s time to slap your appetites into line with your ethics.” Indeed… So, one perhaps has to wait for the Director’s cut…

“There’s been quite a bit of fuss over me recently. In fact, I seem to have stirred up quite a stink! If this is all news to you, let me share with you what some good folks have been saying.”

“Looking for the movie? Well, my starring role in my debut film is now offline – although you can enjoy some out-takes from the original – while I take some views and wait for the Director’s cut :)”

Furthermore, the Q&A section still – yet unedited – displays the following :

Is farmed fish better for the ocean than wild caught?

“Very often, farmed fish are not a good idea, as they are fed on fish meal made from other fish. In other words, fish farming can be used to conceal unsustainable fishing practices in the wild. Farmed fish can also be more vulnerable to disease; sometimes large quantities of antibiotics are pumped into the water in fish farms.”

SeafoodIntelligence.com reflected in an Editorial Wednesday: […] “what does that make of MSC-labelled Alaska salmon?”: “Lets remind our readers that about a third (a massive 1.5 billion fish!) of Alaska salmon’s are bred in hatcheries and fed with commercial fish feeds before being released in the wild… Could the WWF please answer?

[…] “How does WWF intend to inform consumers on these ‘wild-farmed’ fish (the technical term is ‘ranched’)?” […]

The WWF’s Stinky Fish Campaign – the “brainchild” of WWF’s International Marine Programme – albeit without its (original) cartoon, can be viewed here: http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/marine/our_solutions/sustainable_fishing/stinky_fish/index.cfm

 

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