“Stinky Fish” Stinks. Let’s red-list it.

Alright… this truly stinks. Our team laments writing this post because it’s a total drag to announce that a campaign was released on You Tube by two respected organizations—two organizations that we regularly, without any trepidation, have always recommended to anyone who writes to us at Passionfish. Those are the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Mind you, since our founding in 2000, Passionfish has promoted both organizations wholeheartedly and we believe that they are doing the work that needs to be done and are deserved of all good praise heaped upon them. You can see from our own Passionfish newsroom that we have promoted MSC since the early days, and our own Executive Director has worked on well-respected WWF fisheries projects.
Problem is, their campaign called “Stinky Fish” is meant to “educate” people about seafood that’s good for the environment and that has earned the MSC eco-label (a seal of approval for environmental practices) versus seafood that has not yet. Supposedly, in this campaign, seafood that lacks the MSC label is called “stinky fish.” Okaaayyyy, in addition to turning people off from seafood in general, the problem is that, the MSC is a PROCESS. In fact, achieving the MSC certification is an arduous and somewhat costly—and voluntary—process that demands much scrutiny and many layers of approval. It’s not easy to be awarded an MSC “seal of approval.” And those fisheries that do, are doing the right thing (whether they need the label or not is another discussion for another day). Those who achieve that MSC imprimatur are the models for all others that are on the trajectory toward ecological and economic stability.
At the same time, those fisheries that don’t have the MSC eco-label are NOT necessarily “unsustainable” nor doing the “wrong thing.” In fact, only a handful of fisheries worldwide have the label. The label is still pretty invisible in the marketplace. And this anti-social “stinky fish” campaign will only make the MSC label have more trouble gaining widespread acceptance.
So, why would WWF, a well-regarded eNGO (environmental non-governmental organization) launch such an ill-conceived yet no doubt costly campaign? Do they really think and feel so negatively toward people across the planet who are devoting their lives to sustainability? Their campaign uses a disturbing, creepy and sarcastic puppet (or muppet) to declare its in-your-face opinions to people who are clearly caught off guard. I admit that watching that stuffed animal about to drink a pint of beer is amusing. The rest is not at all funny, including the negative, misleading and blanket comments about farmed seafood—without which, most people wouldn’t be able to eat seafood at all.
The entire campaign, sadly, belittles every single gain that has been made by WWF’ers and MSC’ers and all of us in the sustainability, media, education, science, political, fishing, seafood and advocacy sectors. We are concerned that it shows that some individuals (in this case hopefully a puny segment, perhaps a rogue element in the basement of the WWF) will go to all extremes to illustrate a point even if it destroys their own credibility. On top of that—which is far worse—it belittles people who care about the ocean and who enjoy eating seafood. In a clamshell, it’s an elitist campaign; whether the designers of this campaign meant to or not, it tries to make ‘consumers’ look like fools. But, the joke isn’t on us consumers. No, on the contrary, the joke is on those who think that the “general population” doesn’t understand or relate to the true concept of sustainability, in all of its many ecological, social and financial dimensions.
At Passionfish, we want to believe that those “holier than thou” attitudes have died and gone to heaven. We want to believe that everyone involved in this so-called “movement” toward ocean and overall environmental sustainability are sincere and mean what they say, that leaps in thinking ARE truly happening, that the public can rest assured that the hard-earned money they’ve spent (donated) and keep spending has been toward true relevance, advancement and achievement. We can’t afford to take a giant step backward. These silly campaigns, in their many guises, have no place in today’s world.
We will continue to support MSC and WWF. We believe in them. But let’s feed “Stinky Fish” to the bird brains that created it.

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2 comments so far

I think you’re right that Stinky Fish is a lousy campaign, and that MSC and WWF still deserve our support. Thanks for covering this issue.

Mark Powell
January 22nd, 2008 at 4:56 pm

…I found this to be a refreshing new perspective on the fuss over a sock puppet – http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/food/2008/02/fishy_business.html

Fran Baker
February 13th, 2008 at 3:28 am

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