Monday, February 18, 2008

Does the sustainable seafood movement rely on guilt? (blogfish poll)

When you buy seafood, is your seafood choice (at least sometimes) influenced by the sustainable seafood movement? If yes, is it guilt that drove your choice?

I wrote yesterday about "saving the ocean with guilt or desire" and said I think the sustainable seafood movement (and conservation in general) relies too heavily on guilt as a motivator.

Now I'm curious whether YOU seafood buyers think the sustainable seafood movement relys on guilt, and whether that's ok.

So please, if you don't mind, spend a moment answering a single question in the first ever blogfish poll. It's in the sidebar at top right. Do you think the sustainable seafood movement relies on guilt? Please feel free to answer from YOUR perspective as a seafood buyer.

Thanks readers, and please don't embarass me by leaving my poll up with only 2 answers for a month.

image: National Wildlife Federation


Kate said...

I have a problem with this whole "guilt" thing when it comes to ANY conservation effort. I don't feel guilty being told if I do something or eat something I'm adding to a problem. That's just facts. The destruction of our oceans (and other natural resources) is ugly, it's bad, and it could be lessened. That's just the truth.

Seems to me we go to far in protecting people from feeling bad, sad, guilty or whatever. If someone does a bad thing, they SHOULD feel bad about it. NOT feeling bad when you do something wrong is a sign of being emotionally unbalanced, not a sign of having positive self esteem as some of last generations pop psychologists would say.

The reason people DON'T feel bad when they eat unsustainable sea food is because they don't CARE enough... usually because they don't know enough. Saying something usually isn't enough, because they don't have the experience or knowledge for it to sink in. They don't understand what it means when you say coral is alive, that certain fish are being overfished, or anything outside their normal day to day experiences. They can KNOW these things without actually SYNTHESIZING them... which means they really don't attach any meaning to what they are hearing.

I guess that the guilt part may be the first step. I know when my daughter told me about shrimp, I at first felt guilty. That was the first step in my own awareness. Now I don't do it out of guilt, but out of love, and I actually seek out information before eating.

I think that many of the people who read your blog are those who have enough knowledge to skip the guilt phase and who don't see it as a negative, but as a positive. I'd venture to say that people with less experience may feel guilted out by the sustainable seafood movement. My response to that is that this isn't a bad thing.

Mark Powell said...

Looking down on others for caring too little? Saying others are emotionally unbalanced if they don't feel bad when they do something we don't like? This sounds like moral superiority, and I don't think it's a good posture for winning converts to a cause.

Kate said...

No, but knowing people who deliberately do things that are harmful without shame aren't quite humane.

It's not a case of it merely being something we don't like.... we're not guilting people out because they don't like the same TV shows or have the same musical taste. I'm saying that if people understand that what they're doing is destructive, well balanced people won't want to do it. It's a case of making people understand something that they've never really looked into.

I'm also saying that I think we worry too much about telling people that what they're doing is destructive and wrong. We don't want to hurt their feelings, then are confused or upset when they don't understand when we dance around the issue.

Mark Powell said...

Dorid, you have a mistaken belief that everyone with the same set of facts will agree on what is destructive and what is constructive. I fight to reduce fishing impacts on the ocean, but it's not true that fishing is only destructive. It's also constructive in building an economy. It's balancing act, and reasonable people can differ on where is the right balance. Things are not so simple or black and white as you seem to believe.

And...I've learned that not everyone who disagrees with me is ignorant or otherwise inferior. You, for example, disagree with me on guilt, but I assume you have experiences and knowledge that make your view reasonable, as is mine.

I've watched people who want to do the right thing get wrapped around the axle and order chicken instead of fish because they assume I'll rake them over the coals if they order a politically incorrect fish. Someone laid too much guilt on them about sustainable seafood (maybe they did it to themselves), and it became counter-productive.

What context have you found guilt productive? Probably a different context, and it leads to a different conclusion.

Kate said...

Mark, I actually ended up blogging about this because I had different examples.

One of the things is that I think we are talking about different levels of guilt and shame. I don't think "raking people over the coals" is productive. I do think "you're wrong" may be a starting point at times.

The type of shame I'm talking about is related to simple self awareness, and I'm talking more from a clinical standpoint. When people are confronted with the realization that they are doing something that is harmful, they do experience some level of shame.

Individuals who feel nothing upon realization that they've done something unacceptable or harmful have clinical issues. Having worked with both sociopathic and autistic individuals, I can tell you that some feelings of shame and guilt are normal and part of the emotional and learning process.

Now I'm not talking about excessive levels of shame, but I do think that the sustainable seafood industry does tap into that little niche made by the response to "you're wrong. Stop doing that"

Second, I notice twice now you've grouped "ignorant" with "inferior" We're not talking "stupid" here, we're talking ignorant in the purest sense of the word. Most people simply don't have the level of experience with these things that you do. That doesn't make them inferior, just less experienced and less educated. That's a whole different thing.

When I talk about people synthesizing the information, that's the root of all of this. If people can't make a connection on a personal and perhaps emotional level, it makes it difficult if not impossible to motivate them out of more (for lack of a better word) pure motivation.

Most of us live lives where the ocean is pretty much out of sight and out of mind. Many people don't understand why it's important not to overfish, and even explaining it to them may not be sufficient, depending on their own experiences and understanding.

I lived for a couple of years in the fishing village of Madeira Beach in Florida, where the primary source of income was grouper fishing. The restrictions on fishing caused a number of families to lose their homes and livelihood, and was generally resented. Tourists were highly encouraged to eat grouper and support our local fishermen.

I understand how difficult it is to say "look, this isn't a good idea to do, you should find another line of work." and how poorly such a statement is taken by the people whose whole life revolves around grouper.

On the other hand, it seems that in the long run that we will have to make a choice... and that they will be out of their jobs... should we support sustainable fishing.

Having given up a job for moral reasons myself at one point in my life, I can understand the thought and pain that goes into such a decision... and can appreciate somewhat those who have the decision thrust on them unwillingly.

There are no perfect ways to handle the people involved in all this... only lesser evils. Ultimately, if we are to protect the oceans, we will have some human sacrifices.

For me one of the difficult problems has always been indigenous cultures and their relationship to sustainability. I feel very strongly about preservation of traditional cultures, and valuing both so strongly sets up a strong conflict in my mind, so I can totally appreciate that this isn't a purely black and white issue.

ihadira said...

As an oceanographer I feel like I should be setting an example for others and therefore I have quit eating any seafood whatsoever. It has now been several years since I have had the pleasure of enjoying treats from the sea and that is ok because I believe in it. As far as guilt I don't think that people should feel guilty, I think that we should inform each other. Making a statement where someone might feel guilty about something is on them they choose to feel guilty no one makes anyone else feel guilty. If I can just inform someone, then maybe next time they will think about what they are doing and if it does not phase them then it is ok if it does then that is great. It is a choice and I would hope that any movement would not rely on guilt but on compassion.

Mark Powell said...

I'm not a big fan of "just say no" to unsustainable seafood, or all seafood. It just doesn't do anything. To work, a boycott needs to punish the bad seafood and reward the good seafood, and it's too hard for consumers to do that on their own.

Not all shrimp are bad, some are certified as sustainable, and some are caught with traps that minimize bottom damage. Consumers have a hard time incorporating that detailed information into selective buying.

Avoiding all seafood has no impact, and it won't spread far enough to matter.

This is part of the cult of personal responsiblity, believing that personal actions matter. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't and for seafood, I think personal buying choices don't really have much impact.

For grouper in Florida, look at the example of the red snapper fishery, on the road to sustainability through political and advocacy action.

Hard, intricate work, with selective calls for public support. Grouper can be fixed the same way. It's hard, it takes years, and it requires building a better future from fish and fishing.

If we just get regulations in place to stop fishing, the political pressure to undo the regulations in intense, and often successful. That's why we ocean conservationists have learned that we need to build a better future, not just slam closures on people.