Contact: Patti Parisi,
Director of Marketing & Communications
(510) 593-5188



Oakland, CA - July 5, 2004

Passionfish Executive Director Carl Rebstock responded to a news feature in the June 25 issue of the Wall Street Journal called "Food Fight" by reporter Eileen Daspin. His letter to the editor, reprinted below, was sent today.

Humorously but astutely, journalist Eileen Daspin (see “Food Fight,” 25 June 2004) has drawn attention to a clash of titans—the environmental and the seafood industries—and to those trapped in the crossfire of conflicting rhetoric and scientific assertions, namely, home shoppers. Both titans want abundant fish; both believe they know best how to guarantee bountifulness.


Consumers crave simple, definitive guidance. But fisheries biology is an imprecise science. Whatever unwavering advice this young discipline might offer is difficult to distill. Moreover, the problem of dwindling wild fish populations is as much economic and societal as environmental. It is difficult to untangle sound science from political spin. Informed and involved citizens will always be vital to nudging bureaucrats forward. But, avoiding whimsical policy-making comes at the cost of a cumbersome political process. The backlash by baffled consumers is understandable. The burden of moving markets away from “bad” fish and toward “good” fish cannot be borne principally by the public.


Perhaps simpler consumer advice is warranted:   buy what you please but please learn about what you buy. This is not so much heresy as a concession to our human nature:   we want what we can't have. Negativism will not entice disinterested consumers to consider the impact of their purchases. Boycotts and bans may elevate public awareness but generally do greater harm than good by disregarding critical nuances. Activist efforts that marshal the public against industry are divisive and less fruitful than market-based incentives. Passionfish, a nonpartisan educational nonprofit, is creating enduring change through education and corporate collaborations—moving commerce and conservation together through armistice and into alliance.


Unilever, one of the world's largest buyers of fish, and World Wildlife Fund, one of the world's largest conservation organizations, partnered to create a business-environmental partnership which would address the crisis in the world's fisheries. That partnership resulted in the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent certifier of well-managed fisheries. It is a shining example of what we believe offers the greatest promise of progress. The MSC, after a rigorous scientific evaluation, awards an eco-label to products meeting its sustainability criteria, thereby rewarding fisheries in the marketplace and giving consumers confidence that the products they purchase are not harming the environment.


As Brad Warren, Passionfish board member and editor-in-chief of Pacific Fishing magazine has written in a Perspective on our website, “the real engine of change is opportunity, not authority.”


Few issues are more fractious or more urgent. The conflict over our ocean's sustainability is being fought at sea, in scientific and policy journals, and, as Wall Street Journal reporter Eileen Daspin described, on the public stage through restaurants and the media. Like the MSC, Passionfish is crossing these battle lines. We bring together diverse stakeholders to discuss and pursue lasting solutions. Not just prized species are in peril.   Communities dependent upon fishing are also threatened. Similarly, the health of habitats is being compromised.

At the fringes of our society will always be those who would gleefully devour the last gasping Caspian Sea sturgeon, eggs and all. Thankfully, most of us comprise a vast market that the seafood industry knows it can only continue to tap if the supply of wild and farmed seafood is sustainable. Safeguarding the future of fish and fishing is in everyone's interest and is everyone's responsibility—but our greatest allies can be those for whom it is most financially rewarding.  

Carl F. Rebstock, Executive Director


About us: Passionfish is for people passionate about the ocean, fishing, and seafood! We are a nonprofit public education project actively promoting sustainable wild fisheries and aquaculture. Founded in 2000, Passionfish has developed an innovative approach for addressing seafood and fisheries sustainability: forums that reveal common ground amid contention, celebrations of seafood, broadcasts that build awareness, and a unique book series aimed at inspiring adults and children about ocean and seafood sustainability.