Billfish boycott might work

A seafood buyer, whether an executive chef or a mother of four, has incredible power to help change the way business is conducted. While seafood suppliers now crowd the sustainability bandwagon, the movement arguably began when concerned consumers and the environmental groups they belong to demanded the industry's attention. It took some time - and it still needs work and greater commitment throughout the supply chain - but sustainability has stuck.

Some organized efforts clamoring for change often go away quietly. Others have lasting impacts, sometimes long after the fight has ended. For an example, the "Give Swordfish a Break" campaign, launched by SeaWeb in 1998 and ended two-plus years later when the species showed sufficient evidence of recovery, is still talked about today (ask any swordfish dealer) and is partly responsible for the species' resurgence by enlisting chefs to keep it off their menus. About two weeks ago, the Northwest Atlantic Canadian longline and harpoon swordfish fisheries applied for sustainability certification with the Marine Stewardship Council. Can you imagine that happening a decade ago?

Other boycotts occur annually with measurable results. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its crusade against Canada's seal hunt has enlisted numerous seafood buyers to boycott Canadian seafood. Snow crab, which has become collateral damage in the dispute because it is harvested in Newfoundland where the seal hunt is centered, is still popular with U.S. consumers but the list of boycott participants grows each year. HSUS says more than 5,000 grocery stores, restaurants and hotels and casinos nationwide are participating this year, up from 3,600 in 2008.

So there's every reason to believe that the nascent "Take Marlin Off the Menu" campaign, launched by the International Game Fish Association, the Billfish Association and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation to stop marlin overfishing, will be successful. They've got Wolfgang Puck on board and they're armed with recent survey results in which 78 percent of respondents say they won't touch it. Marlin is not a staple species on restaurant menus like salmon or shrimp, so restaurant traffic shouldn't halt without its availability.

The hunt for the next hot seafood item is always on, and species like marlin, spearfish and other billfish seemingly fit the bill (no pun intended). But with mounting pressure to lay off these long-living predatory species, looking elsewhere for the next darling fish might be a sound strategy.

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business


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