Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Seafood boycotts and just say no

Is this the way to get to sustainable seafood? Maybe, now and then, but it's not good dogma.

Should we refuse to buy bad (unsustainable) fish, and expect fishermen to toe the line of sustainability? Should we hang banners off a store or dump bycatch on a sidewalk, and expect big business to respond with kinder, gentler seafood policies? If that's all you do, don't hold your breath.

Just say no might get some attention, but then what? How can that attention be turned into conservation?

I find myself called to answer this question at the Seafood Summit, again & again. Not always in times and places of my choosing.

Why do these questions come up repeatedly? The theme of Seafood Summit 2007 is the business of sustainability. Now that sustainability is a buzzword, something that everyone wants to claim, the important question is: how to make it real?
Some call for stringent action by conservationists--don't support anything but the very, very best in sustainable seafood.

OK, a fine and noble idea...but what should we do about seafood business people who want to do better? Should we criticize them if they aren't ready to make a single magnificent leap all the way to sustainability? I think not.

Anyone who wants to do better should be encouraged and rewarded. Anyone who wants to do a lot better should be encouraged and rewarded a lot. And nobody stops there, we should expect to see more improvements a later.

One question put me on the spot, asked me out of the audience to speak to using activist tactics like dumping a load of bycatch on a storefront sidewalk, or occupying the roof of a store and hanging banners criticizing unsustainable practices. The moderator wanted the perspective of a US enviro group, in response to Greenpeace's European approach of activism to help make the case for change.
My answer: activism can be helpful, but not as a lifestyle. Yes, activism can be a good idea as a way to get attention if businesses are unresponsive to legitimate concerns. But once you have their attention, you have to have some good productive solutions to propose. Otherwise activism is just a feel good stunt.

Lasting change only happens when people are converted to a new way of doing things. Conversion is harder than organizing a good stunt.

...but speaking of stunts...that reminds me of the time we had a demonstration in Roseburg...picketed the new Oregon Democratic environmentalist Governor on his first public visit back to his hometown after getting elected...all over bogus show-and-tell fish restoration projects. We got some attention, made our pleas for change, it didn't amount to much...but it was at least a fabulous futile gesture of disagreement. Still seems like it was a good idea.


Anonymous said...

Great information. Check out this website..

I think it discusses a lot of the same idea's.

Anonymous said...

Just say no doesn't make sense, it's much better to support good seafood and boycott bad seafood.