If Greenpeace wanted attention, it got it: The organization released a report this week rating supermarkets on the sustainability of their seafood selection, and a lot of people pretended to be shocked, shocked, that any environmentally dicey fish were being sold. Notably, of course, the National Fisheries Institute, which showed up in the comments section of nearly every single post to mock the report.
But let’s back up: “Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores Are Emptying the Seas” is a 75-page assessment that flunks every single major American retailer on seafood sustainability. Every one. Whole Foods, which scores the highest, only gets a 4 out of 10. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog notes, Trader Joe’s belly-flopped in at 16th out of 20. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart rang in at number 5, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s followed its attempt to source more Marine Stewardship Council–certified fish. (Also, Texas-based H. E. Butt (a.k.a. H-E-B) landed near the bottom, prompting this from a commenter on the Seattle P-I site: “There’s a supermarket called H.E. Butt?”)
But the Greenpeace report has serious flaws, and they were exposed, in a patient, levelheaded way, by the Washington Post’s Kim O’Donnel in a blog post. As she writes, Greenpeace refuses to stand behind the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification scheme, because Greenpeace thinks that currently no species can really stand up to intense fishing pressure. That’s why the organization doesn’t want to make recommendations to consumers about what’s OK and what isn’t. But at the same time, the stores that scored well seemed to do so in part because they carried MSC-certified fish. After noting a statement from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which lauded the MSC and implicitly criticized Greenpeace’s methodology, O’Donnel writes: “It got me thinking: If I’m to infer from Floegel’s [a senior investigator for the Greenpeace report] earlier statement that GP believes that we should give seafood a big global time out (an idea that bears consideration, in my opinion), then why did GP bother to rate supermarket seafood in the first place?”