In his latest New York Times column, professional food alarmist Mark Bittman asks whether it’s time to boycott tuna, depending on the success or failure of a new Greenpeace campaign asking companies to reduce by-catch from their operations. Greenpeace is a fringe group described by its own cofounder as “anti-science” and “basically anti-civilization,” and Bittman’s piece seems to do little but parrot talking points from these environmental radicals. Now, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation is hitting back.
On Radio Australia, the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee Chair states that Greenpeace is exaggerating its claims about by-catch, which refers to non-target animals caught during fishing (“purse seine” refers to a method of fishing that scoops up fish with a purse-shaped net):
Host: And another of the comments made by [Greenpeace’s] Casson Trenor [is] that they have evidence that turtles are killed by purse seiners that are caught up by accident in their fishing processes and also photos finning sharks. You disagree with that?
ISSF: Well, the catch of turtles in purse seine fisheries is very minor. It’s in the dozens a year and most of them are released alive. The mortality of those turtles is very, very small and it’s almost insignificant compared to the mortality of turtles from other fishing activities, such as long lining or from other human activities, such as building hotels near nesting beaches and so on.
Greenpeace would prefer it if fishermen caught tuna using pole-and-line methods. But as the tuna industry notes, only 2% of the canned tuna consumed is currently caught this way. It’s less efficient than using methods like purse seine, which begs the question: Wouldn’t fishermen have to dispatch more boats to catch the same amount of tuna going by this supposedly more “sustainable” method, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions? Probably—but that handy problem would give Greenpeace something else to complain about, another way to try to put the fishing industry out of business, and of course, something to fundraise on.
(And speaking of sustainability, Bittman notes that most canned tuna is skipjack—which is not a threatened species.)
Canned tuna is a source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that’s easily affordable for lower-income Americans. Omega-3s are linked not only to better heart health, but also better brain development in children. Studies already indicate that some 4.4 million lower-income households stopped purchasing canned tuna between 2000 and 2006, no doubt mostly due to the mercury-in-fish scare campaigns from environmental groups that, unsurprisingly, failed on scientific merit. A full-on boycott of this cheap source of omega-3s might serve Bittman’s self-righteousness, but it wouldn’t help the average family.
Maybe next time Bittman shouldn’t rely so much on a “ratbag rabble of intellectual cowards intent on peddling an agenda.” Or better yet, maybe he can go back to simply serving up new recipes.