“Is Chilean sea bass an endangered species? No.”
This refreshing morsel of truth came from the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce in their latest comments on the subject. But elite chefs in Seattle and across the country, unencumbered as they are by pesky facts, are buying into environmental hype. One by one, they are banishing Chilean sea bass from their menus, based on the say-so of a few agenda-driven environmental scare groups.
This latest campaign mirrors the equally unnecessary “Give Swordfish A Break” crusade of 1998, run by a special interest group named SeaWeb. That effort, which sought to eliminate Atlantic swordfish from restaurants, also drew official skepticism. A National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman said at the time: “It will end up having a detrimental effect on our fishermen . . . I know a lot of (U.S. fishermen) who have lost their jobs already.”
The federal government maintained throughout that swordfish were never in any danger. And some fishery analysts say SeaWeb’s fishy jihad actually backfired. It seems that when the four-star restaurants stopped serving swordfish, the market was flooded with fish. You didn’t think the fishermen were going to stop catching it, did you? When supply went up, the price went down; suddenly, mid-priced and family restaurants could afford to put swordfish on their menus.
So while white-tablecloth dining may have been sans swordfish for a while, Mr. and Mrs. Middle America got to try the dish instead. Back in the swordfish boycott’s heyday, SeaWeb’s president acknowledged to reporters that she chose Atlantic swordfish as her poster-fish because it would capture the public’s imagination, not because it was threatened.
“We wanted something majestic,” she said then. Chilean sea bass was Bon Appetit Magazine’s 2001 “Dish of the Year,” which is about as majestic as you can get. Why the current fuss? Why would the National Environmental Trust force-feed us this new solution in search of a problem?
Seattle diners who are denied the chance to try Chilean sea bass might look for answers from seafood marketers such as EcoFish, a commercial distributor whose real-life slogan is “helping people make meals that reflect their morals.” I’m not kidding. Running a seafood business is an expensive undertaking, and this conspiracy is all about marketing, not conservation. Tax-exempt groups influence public opinion, creating an artificial demand for “eco-friendly” fish; elite chefs buy and serve it (to those few who can afford it) in the name of “social consciousness,” and big-name foundation money keeps the non-profit “do-gooders” in the black.
With the competition declared politically incorrect, marketers such as EcoFish sell approved products and promise to donate part of their profits as charitable (read: tax-exempt) gifts to the rest of the propaganda squad, which can then be counted on to continue repeating the mantra of overfishing, conservation and guilt-free alternatives.
In the case of EcoFish, all of the major non-profit players sit on an advisory board convened to decide which fish deserve this year’s scarlet O (for off the menu). Don’t be deceived into thinking that we’re talking about small, shoestring-budget save-the-whale groups.
The two biggest fish in this particular sea of foundation money are the Packard Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Together, they’re worth more than $14 billion, and they’re calling the shots. The Pew Charitable Trusts has spent more than $4 million to keep SeaWeb running. It also heavily funds other non-profits (such as Audubon, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Oceans Campaign) whose programs are geared toward placing fish species off-limits, often without science in their corner.
Here’s the coup de grace: The National Environmental Trust, which is officially sponsoring this year’s Chilean sea bass boycott, is essentially a wholly owned Pew subsidiary. Pew set it up and remains its biggest donor by far (more than $25 million to date). The Packard Foundation holds a permanent seat on the board of EcoFish, as do several of its grantees. In addition, Packard has given SeaWeb at least $150,000 and also donated $5 million to the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans campaign (whose chairman, Carl Safina, is another EcoFish adviser).
Packard has also seeded the Marine Stewardship Council with $1 million. MSC is the third party certifier that issues its seal of approval to fisheries adhering to certain environmental guidelines — including, of course, the myth of protecting overfished and endangered species such as Atlantic swordfish and Chilean sea bass.
The “Take a Pass on Sea Bass” scare campaign is being pushed by the same two big-money foundations as the earlier swordfish boycott, and it is just as unnecessary. Chilean sea bass are not endangered. No amount of propaganda, however expensive, will change that.
Seattle restaurants should take note: Sometimes it’s the biggest whoppers that deserve to be tossed back.
— David Martosko is research director for The Center for Consumer Freedom (www.ConsumerFreedom.com), a coalition supported by restaurant operators, food and beverage companies and individuals.