A couple years ago I criticized the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) for not bouncing disgraced Bumble Bee Seafoods from its ranks following its involvement in a massive price-fixing conspiracy. I haven’t changed my mind on this, but NFI has – sort of.
Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea have all confessed to cheating consumers by fixing prices on canned tuna. And, on the face of it, at least to me, their membership in NFI suggests that the United States’ leading seafood trade association tolerates fraud perpetrated by its members.
NFI created the Better Seafood Board (BSB) in 2007 to, as NFI President John Connelly said at the time, “help the industry demonstrate its commitment to the highest principles of conduct."
But at that time, NFI, intentionally or not, limited the definition of “the highest principles of conduct.” As part of their 2007 dues renewal with NFI, member companies signed economic integrity commitment forms pledging that their products are not transshipped to avoid duties, mislabeled for species or mislabeled for weight or counts.
That’s it. Nothing about price fixing or polluting waterways or jeopardizing worker safety or animal cruelty, etc. A good seafood company must be measured by more than whether it short weights, mislabels or avoids duties.
It seems NFI has now come to this realization.
In June, the trade association modified its bylaws, choosing to “move to a principle not Napoleonic Code style of behavior guideline,” Connelly told me. In other words, it broadened its definition of what constitutes proper behavior among its members, beyond just the three conditions it previously identified.
Here is the exact wording of the bylaw change: “ Any membership may be suspended, terminated, or censured for violation of the By-Laws (including lack of adherence to the Economic Integrity commitment as specified in Article III, Section 3 of these By-Laws), or any other conduct determined in the sole discretion of the Board of Directors to be inconsistent with or contrary to the best interests of the National Fisheries Institute. Such suspension or termination shall only be effective by the vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the members of the full Board present and voting at any regular or special meeting of the Board, only after the subject member has had opportunity to discuss the matter at a Board meeting. All Board members voting on the suspension or termination shall declare any conflicts of interests and recuse themselves as appropriate.”
I commend NFI for broadening its definition of what constitutes behavior that is detrimental to its organization and its members – and the public perception of this industry -- but I am not sure how much of a difference this will make.
Let’s be honest, it’s tough to penalize or terminate a member of any group who is helping pay the freight for the group. NFI is not a wealthy organization -- it reported revenue of $6 million on its 2016 federal tax return -- but it accomplishes a great deal with the money it does have.
But that is the test of integrity, isn’t it? Are you willing to stand up for what is right even when it costs you?
Our pages have been filled the past few weeks with seafood companies behaving badly, and thereby tarnishing the image of this industry as a whole.
This is why it is more important than ever to have an internal watchdog.
The bylaws give NFI broader power to direct how its members -- the majority of which are leaders in the seafood industry -- behave and represent the trade group and the overall seafood industry. Let's see how it uses this new power.
Any comments, complaints, retaliatory rants, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.