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MSC in another Stinky family feud

The WWF and MSC had an embarrassing public fight, but it's what the groups did afterward that is more disturbing.

The Marine Stewardship council (MSC) and WWF just had a family argument in public, which is embarrassing enough, but the way the two groups tried to paper over it afterward stands out as yet another example of the MSC’s fear of criticism and the WWF’s confusing relationship with the eco-label group it founded.

The quick back story is this: A report prepared by WWF that was incredibly critical of the MSC's certification of Indian Ocean (IO) tuna fisheries was written about by the Times newspaper, exposing in all its splendor the family feud between the parent, WWF, and its offspring, the MSC.

Naturally we got our hands on the report and brought it out in the open for our subscribers to read and judge for themselves.

The report is damning -- no two ways about -- and I encourage you all to read it, but what I find more offensive is how the two groups tried to control the perception of the event after the fact.

Quickly the MSC fired off a letter to us, attempting to tamp down the appearance of any harshness between itself and WWF.

The part of the letter that got me was this: "WWF swiftly confirmed that the document is a draft of an internal paper that has not been reviewed, fact-checked or balanced by diversities of opinion. It is not an official expression of WWF’s opinion and should not be characterized as such."

Bullshit. Any sane person looking at the report would conclude that it is well beyond "draft" stage, and if it doesn't represent WWF's views on the subject, why is their name on the cover and why did their staff prepare it?

The rest of the letter is lots of boilerplate MSC prattle that does not address in a meaningful way the explosive charges laid out in the report.

A few days later, as the controversy swirled and swelled, WWF dropped us a line to say, "Hey, we're all good here. Nothing to see. Move along..."

Here's the WWF explanation: "A paper quoted in the media a number of days ago was a draft version of an internal document. Like any working version of a draft document, this paper was not meant to be the official expression of WWF’s opinion, nor was it fair to characterize it as such."

If it sounds completely similar to the MSC response a few days earlier, that's because it is. Circle the wagons.

WWF also said, "While the document was inappropriately distributed, it reflects WWF’s understanding of ongoing challenges in tuna fisheries certification in the Indian Ocean over the past five years."

Huh? "It reflects WWF’s understanding of ongoing challenges in tuna fisheries certification in the Indian Ocean" but it's "not meant to be the official expression of WWF’s opinion."

C'mon, enough. I know we are now living in the Trumpian Era of up is down, left is right and facts are fiction, but enough is enough.

I doubt that report and its findings would ever have seen the light of day, if it wasn't "leaked."

Look, the report is five years in the making. There is nothing casual about it or its conclusions about the IO tuna fishery and its lack of suitability for MSC certification.

So why all the dodging and weaving by both groups? I think folks could understand if the MSC certification was not appropriate for the tuna fishery, and I think folks in this industry could accept that.

There is no need to make it all seem like some silly misunderstanding over the unsanctioned release of a report -- although plenty of folks had the report and shared it with us so I am not sure how secret it was.

Anyway, this is Stinky Fish all over again -- that 2008 WWF puppetized marketing campaign, which was supposed to turn web-savvy, hip consumers onto MSC eco-label seafood, but backfired when the industry execs were ticked by WWF’s portrayal of non-MSC-certified seafood as stinky, or not cool. But to seafood suppliers, stinky means rotten and unwholesome, a definite insult in any language.

For two groups that preach transparency to this industry, it is funny that they go out of their way to obfuscate when they don't like the look or the smell of transparency themselves.

Send your comments to: john.fiorillo@intrafish.com

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