Media watch: Hoki in the hot seat


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
September 22, 2009

The New York Times’ story about New Zealand hoki, a humble species that rarely garners the mainstream media’s attention, took on a life of its own this month.

Multiple news outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Business Insider and Gloucester Daily Times, reran or wrote about “From Deep Pacific, Ugly and Trendy, with a Catch” by William Broad, which painted New Zealand’s hoki fishery in a negative light.

The New Zealand Seafood Industry Council wasted no time attacking the article, citing numerous omissions, errors and distortions. The council’s frustration with a Times science editor’s initial response culminated in an open letter and press release, which finally elicited an apology from the newspaper.

The Obama administration’s approval of a plan to allow open-ocean aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico was picked up by a number of media outlets. The Associated Press, Science Insider and Times-Picayune, among others, covered the decision, doing an admirable job of capturing both the opponents and supporters of open-ocean fish farms.

A Stanford University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the increase in farmed fish production and its effects on wild stocks received a fair amount of play in the mainstream press. However, coverage of the study ranged greatly, from its implication that farmed fish will represent half of global seafood consumption this year to blaming health-conscious consumers for depleting the oceans and driving the growth of the farmed seafood industry, which is what the study was actually about.

The misinterpretation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2004 methylmercury advisory — which warns pregnant and nursing women, women of childbearing age and children to avoid certain seafood species — and its effect of U.S. seafood consumption was listed on CNN’s Web site as one of the 10 most important nutrition stories of the last two decades.

CNN made it clear in its story that the public’s interpretation was misconstrued and that, according to the Institute of Medicine, the healthful benefits of seafood outweigh the risks.

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