Top 10 Stories of 2008
As the seafood industry heads toward an uncertain 2009, it’s time to look back at 2008, a year that provided a lot to think about. Of all the important stories that SeafoodSource followed this year, there were several that stood out. Here are my picks for the top 10 seafood news stories of 2008.
10. Sustainability’s staying power. In June, Greenpeace flunked all 20 leading North American retailers it reviewed for not meeting its ideal sustainable seafood-sourcing policies. Four retailers eked out passing grades in December, but it’s clear that sustainability awareness is growing with or without report cards. Industry collaboration with the environmental community is on the upswing. And the November issue of SeaFood Business was devoted entirely to sustainability, the first time the magazine took a comprehensive look at a single topic.
9. Chile digs in against ISA. Infectious salmon anemia already swept through numerous Chilean salmon farms in 2007. But by the end of 2008, production forecasts from the largest salmon companies were down, thousands of employees were out of work and the Chilean government was rushing to rescue struggling salmon producers with $450 million in loans.
8. Seafood is still health food. Omega-3 fatty acids garnered positive media coverage throughout the year. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, in a study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that eating oily fish helps prevent coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death. The same journal reported two months later that, in a study, mothers who ate the most seafood during pregnancy had the smartest, healthiest babies.
7. Hang in there, bluefin tuna. Despite mounting scientific evidence of a population collapse in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas opted for a 22,000-metric-ton bluefin tuna quota. The 20 percent cut wasn’t nearly what many conservation groups and governments felt was necessary to save the species.
6. Start with shrimp. With food safety on the front burner thanks to last year’s No. 1 story (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s import alert against five farmed seafood species from China), the FDA took an important step toward correcting its inspection process when it launched a pilot program to evaluate third-party certification programs. The FDA will first put farmed shrimp to the test — a pilot program that launches in 2009 includes key participants like the Global Aquaculture Alliance and Aquaculture Certification Council.
5. The lobster roller coaster. During the summer the FDA issued a consumer warning about the health dangers of eating tomalley, the dark green goo that functions as a lobster’s liver and pancreas. The ensuing and often-inaccurate media frenzy harmed lobster sales, but not nearly as much as when demand plummeted as financial markets tanked and global economies collapsed. American lobster prices hit historic lows this fall.
4. Fit to print? The New York Times continued its seafood industry assault with one-sided coverage of mercury in sushi tuna at Manhattan stores, an error-filled story about the Chilean farmed salmon industry’s struggles with ISA, and a sympathetic profile of an outspoken critic of salmon farming in Canada. Even recipe guru Mark Bittman, author of “The Minimalist” column, wrote a poorly received piece decrying the state of today’s seafood industry.
3. Mercury rises. Media coverage of mercury steadily increased, yet the health risks associated with seafood consumption continued to get misreported and manipulated. Recent news that the FDA was reevaluating the federal mercury advisory was overshadowed by the ridiculous story of Jeremy Piven, an actor who quit his Broadway play due to what his doctor called “mercury poisoning” from his sushi habit.
2. Labor pains. The Solidarity Center in April released a report, “The True Cost of Shrimp,” that increased worldwide interest in seafood’s social standards. The U.S. seafood industry roundly criticized the summary of labor abuses at Southeast Asian shrimp processing plants as sensational and unfounded. Despite not revealing names of offenders, the authors continually defended their report.
1. It’s the economy. A faltering U.S. economy was “officially” in a recession in December. But by then, figures had shown that seafood consumption fell in 2007 and would likely fall again in 2008. Restaurant patronage dropped significantly. The state of the economy and struggling financial markets heading into 2009 will influence the seafood industry in many ways. Will it be survival of the fittest?
Happy New Year,