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Confusing Guidance

Here come the guides-- the Blue Ocean Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have all launched sustainable sushi guides that not only conflict with red and green lists from other environmental lobbying groups but offer health advice too.

If they're talking about health advice for the oceans perhaps they've got a horse in this race but when it comes to human health I'll stick to doctors and dietitians.

The Washington Post says the guides help consumer know if the sushi "has been caught or farmed in ways that harm the ocean or pose health risks to diners." But they don't report on the real limitations of these guides and the confusion they can cause.

For instance the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide was released on October 22nd and lists Alaska pollock in its "Best Choices" column. On October 9th, Greenpeace announced people should not eat Alaska pollock because it is "on the verge of collapse." (Alaska pollock was also featured on Greenpeace's "red list" back in June.)

As far as health advice goes the first fish on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Best Choices list is "Aji." If consumers read the legend, they'll find the asterisk next to this species corresponds with a message to "limit consumption due to concerns about mercury or other contaminants." So, is it the best choice or should I be limiting my consumption? What's more, consumption limits with regard to mercury apply only to pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and small children. So the potential for confusion is fairly obvious.

While the advice we see from environmental lobbying groups is sometimes confusing and contradictory, what they are really doing is seeking to boil sustainability down to a neat wallet card or a handy list. This is an unrealistic and improper goal because it ignores the three facets of sustainability that must be considered in order to truly asses something's "sustainability"; (in alphabetical order) economic, environmental and social.  Cards that distil the sustainability story of any one specie down to a list or a ranking rarely take in to account all three considerations and there for fail in their goal.

The seafood community is not against efforts to responsibly educate people about sustainability, in fact we embrace it, but these cards don't succeed in doing that.

If you want a dynamic constantly updated look at the real status of the stocks we suggest the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's FishWatch Web site.

Interesting that you should note how the Monterey Bay guide lists Alaska Pollack as a safe choice but that Greenpeace announced that fishery was in danger of collapse. I say interesting because another post on your blog talks about a dispute you are having with Reuters about the Greenpeace story. I assume you are having because Greenpeace's claims are based on incomplete data, a fact which you seem to know and acknowledge in one post and then ignore in this one.

For starters, thank you for reading my blog and please leave your name when you post so I can know who I am talking with.

But as far as your question goes your observation is only half right. We are in the midst of a dispute with Reuters about a Greenpeace story and I do note that Greenpeace’s claims are based on incomplete data.

But that is not to say that the data available is incomplete but just that the claims are based on only half of the available data. Greenpeace based their assessment on mid-water assessments and claimed 50% of the stock was gone. When the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) assessed mid-water and then ground stocks to complete the picture they found the stocks to be 92% of what they expected as apposed to the 50% of what they expected as claimed by Greenpeace.

So, if you only look at half of the data (mid-water) as opposed to all of it (mid-water and ground) you are basing your conclusions on incomplete data. Like NMFS I prefer to base my conclusions, as I have done here, on all of the available data.

Thanks for commenting.

My point was that you cite Greenpeace as disagreeing with Monterey Bay about Alaska Pollack because Greenpeace says it is on the verge of collapse:

"For instance the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide was released on October 22nd and lists Alaska pollock in its "Best Choices" column. On October 9th, Greenpeace announced people should not eat Alaska pollock because it is "on the verge of collapse." (Alaska pollock was also featured on Greenpeace's "red list" back in June.)"

But you don't even agree with that. According to your comment above, that is not correct according to NMFS. So, in essence, it IS okay to eat pollack as Monterey Bay says.

All I'm saying, is that if you're going to come out against something, you should be sure your position on it agrees with your other stances. It's clear that Greenpeace was premature in their assessment and that Monterey Bay (and the others) agreed with NMFS (and you in your comment if not the original post) by calling the stock of Pollack sustainable.



I see what you are saying but there appears to be a bit of a misunderstanding. I noted that Greenpeace has Alaska Pollock on its red list and Monterey Bay has it on its green list to illustrate the confusion that consumers might find in competing guides and lists – not to say that Greenpeace was right.

As you noted Greenpeace was wrong in their assessment of Alaska Pollock, it does not belong on any red list.

Thank you for your comments. And let me say this— you will often find me questioning irresponsible, rhetoric-filled, ad hominem attacks from extremists who are not responsible partners in discussions about sustainability. Charlie- here- is reading this blog seeking clarification and exchanging ideas in a civil manner, making this discussion a sustainable one.

Thank you.


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