Another Day of Sustainability: Seasick!

Big news today in the NYT: a great front page story by Abby Goodnough on Whole Foods (WF), and how the union-busting company–not a single store has a union–has found a sacred mission in refusing to buy fish it considers poor in sustainability.  What they mean here is that certain fish are said to be overfished and the idea is that by not selling these fish, WF is saving the planet.

Here’s the link:

Banned from sale in the stores will be gray sole and skate.  Atlantic cod will “only be sold, if it is not caught by trawlers, which drag nets across the ocean floor, a much-used method (in New England).”

There’s only one catch, so to speak: Fishermen, many already operating on a shoestring, already dependent on seasons, weather, and hard working crews, will suffer more economic strain.

Why is that sustainable?  Where is the evidence that fishing skate and grey sole will wipe them out?  Is there no thought given to the fishermen?  Aren’t their lives part of the question of economic sustainability?

Or is WF simply trying to dictate the terms of the price and also to cash in on a marketing ploy?

WF gets its info on sustainability and fish from, “ratings set by theBlue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and theMonterey Bay Aquarium in California. They are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.”

The BOI is using data to predict future trends.  It’s a cool idea, but it’s numbers based and lacks statistical validity, in my opinion.  We don’t know what will happen in the future, do we?  (The banks tried this and it contributed to the crisis in 9/08: Predicting growth based on previous performance.  It’s specious logic.)

And who says that WF has the answer?  “Jim Ford, who said he sold 700,000 pounds of fish to Whole Foods over the past year, declared, “It’s a marketing ploy, that’s all.” Mr. Ford said he would now sell to the Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain instead.”

Here’s a different view expressed in the article: “’We have the strictest management regime in the world,’” said David Goethel, a fisherman from Hampton, N.H. and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council. ‘So using the word ‘sustainable,’ maybe it looks good in your advertising. But, without being too harsh, it means absolutely nothing.’”

Of course, DG is correct.  The hypocrisy of WF lecturing to fishermen while keeping unions out that might sustain its workers?  A distraction.

You want to be really sustainable?  Buy only from unionized grocery stores where employees have authority equal to management on heath care, planning, and…what fish to buy.

Union Worker On Strike

Very fishy!




One thought on “Another Day of Sustainability: Seasick!

  1. Ok – so I may differ from my friend Scott on this – I haven’t read the NYT article, so I base my response only on scott’s review. To me, the economic argument against environmental conservation (as in many markets) is worn out. When consumer demand changes, new markets and new economies are created. I can’t speak about wf’s employer practices, but I do give them credit for trying to do the right thing regarding fishing – however imperfect the harm assessment are. (Reply: What consumer demand? Do you know anyone who demanded less grey sole and skate? WF is a heinous organization because they subvert food to the profit of their CEO. Michael Pollan called him out on this years ago. Where is the evidence that grey siole and skate are overfished? No unions? No interest.)

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