Once again claiming “victory” for an outcome in which they played no part, activists at SeaWeb are patting themselves on the dorsal fins this week over the “dramatic recovery” of Atlantic swordfish stocks. Along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, SeaWeb engineered a 1998 swordfish boycott that had zero discernible effect on global swordfish catches.

So if U.S. fishermen didn’t stop catching swordfish just because a handful of elite chefs joined the “Give Swordfish a Break!” scare campaign, how come the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is reporting that populations are at 94 percent of “healthy” levels?

It’s simple: they were never in any danger to begin with. The National Marine Fisheries Service said so, back in 1998. And SeaWeb president Vikki Spruill herself told a St. Petersburg Times reporter that choosing the Atlantic swordfish as her group’s “poster-fish” had relatively little to do with its status as an endangered species (it wasn’t). “We wanted something majestic,” Spruill said.

Now, while the same public-relations whiz who once called SeaWeb “a fabulous opportunity for me to design what is really just a big communications campaign” is claiming victory over one straw man, another is on the horizon. As elite chefs in the Pacific Northwest carp about “declining” Chilean sea bass stocks, it’s worth remembering the federal government’s official one-word response to the question of
whether this new poster-fish is endangered: “No.”