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Cod campaign draws criticism


Thursday, October 17, 2002, 21:30 (GMT + 9)

A new campaign touting line-caught cod as "eco-friendly" has stirred up criticism and scepticism from cod fisheries on both US coasts. Trawl fishermen and even some hook and line fishermen have responded with a flurry of emails deriding the initiative, even as some praise its attempt to inform consumers more deeply.

Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation and the Chefs Collaborative launched the "Chatham Hooked Cod" campaign, which advises consumers to eat cod caught by hook and line fishermen from the Massachusetts port of Chatham. About 20 Boston-area restaurants have signed up to participate in the campaign. Cod caught by local hook-and-line fishermen is about 20 per cent more expensive than other cod, but supporters contend that it's "worth it."

CLF claims that the Chatham hook-and-line fishery is "eco-friendly" and that "hook-and-line caught cod have a noticeably better taste and consistency than other cod for several reasons. The fish are caught on single hooks, so they don't get bruised or jostled when being caught. Hook-and-line fishermen go out on day boats and return every night with the day's catch, which means the fish get to the market almost immediately. You can't buy cod fresher than that!"

Further, CLF's Priscilla Brooks says: "Because this fish is caught with hook and line, there is little impact on sensitive ocean habitats. And protecting the marine environment means not only rebuilding fish stocks but also promoting sustainable fishing techniques."

Those claims are controversial, however. Producers who rely on other methods of catching cod - chiefly trawls - argue that the campaign unfairly implies that their fisheries are damaging to the ocean. There is also dispute about the contention that hook-and-line caught cod tastes better.

The Chefs Collaborative, which is spearheading the campaign, is a group of chefs and restaurateurs seeking to promote sustainable and natural foods from a variety of sources. Like other groups that have set out to influence consumer choices about seafood and other foods, the Chefs Collaborative has taken some heat. Writing in
The Washington Monthly (July/August 2001), Greg Critser argued the chefs' "cuisine of trepidation" reflects an elite form of vanity rather than real commitment to a better world. "It is about what it takes to make chefs and foodies feel superior to the uneducated masses," he charged.

In the US fishing industry, arguments about the cod campaign have centered on the accuracy of its claims. But some take a different view; they say critics ought to fight fire with fire, launching their own campaigns to promote the fish they favour.

The cod campaign isn't the first to spur controversy in the industry. A  campaign to boycott swordfish, launched by
SeaWeb (another group seeking to influence seafood choices) in 1998, was supposed to target overfishing of Atlantic swordfish by a number of nations that routinely exceeded their quotas.

By Brad Warren
FIS North America