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Controversy Brewing Over Greenpeace Survey of Retail Seafood Practices

The National Fisheries Institute is reaching out to food retailers to warn them that it suspects something fishy may be going on with Greenpeace's recently launched efforts to categorize seafood retailers and push an agenda of discouraging the sale of certain species.

Greenpeace said it is conducting a survey of U.S. retailers as part of its Sustainable Seafood campaign, and that the survey will result in a report comparing the seafood procurement policies and practices of leading U.S. retailers, according to Greenpeace.

However, NFI, based in McLean, Va., said it objected to some of Greenpeace's requests for information. In its survey, Greenpeace asks retailers about their seafood sourcing policies, including requesting a supplier list and questioning how stores support NGOs.

The group is also demanding stores eliminate 23 species of seafood, which comprise what it called its "red list," because they are either overfished, or the methods of fishing for them damage the environment or hurt small fishing communities.

NFI said Greenpeace's red list is "without scientific merit," and includes some of the world's best-managed wild species and most responsibly produced farmed species.

NFI warned retailers in a letter that Greenpeace is preparing a ranking of all seafood retailers, based on its own criteria, and will issue a public report expected in next few weeks that will identify what it considers "good" and "bad" retailers, based on those retailers' adherence to Greenpeace dictates. NFI said the group is likely preparing for "direct action," which could include illegally trespassing or defacing retailers' property.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) had published a more favorable assessment of the Greenpeace survey in March. "The survey follows similar retailer rankings carried out around Europe," MSC said. "In those surveys, careful seafood sourcing, labeling policies, and public promotion of sustainable seafood all improved retailers' positions in the rankings, and often differentiated themselves from their competitors."

The MSC told retailers, "References to your participation in the MSC certification program may benefit you in the [Greenpeace] survey."

NFI noted, however, that three of the species in Greenpeace's red list (Alaska pollock, hoki , and South Georgia toothfish) are certified sustainable by the MSC.

"Greenpeace's approach serves to oversimplify complex fishery management issues, which will ultimately only confuse the consumer, the customer we are all trying to work for," NFI said. "The threshold question is, 'How can any of Greenpeace's recommendations be taken seriously, when so many of them are lacking in scientific accuracy?'"

The group also warned that "Greenpeace's demands, if met, will impact stores' bottom lines and impose staggering costs on suppliers."
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