Toothfish rejection a 'cynical' gesture

April 14, 2011 09:27

Giant United States supermarket chain Safeway has used Antarctic toothfish as a sacrificial lamb to improve its environmental image, a Nelson seafood industry executive said, reports with reference to Nelson Mail.

Safeway has announced it  won't buy or sell toothfish and that it wants the entire Ross Sea designated a marine reserve.

However, New Zealand Longline spokesman Ross Tocker said Safeway was unknown to the company as a toothfish stockist. It hadn't been highly regarded for its purchasing record, and he thought it was "throwing toothfish under the truck".

This was an American expression used when a business sacrificed something that wasn't worth much, to make it look good, he said.

Antarctic toothfish, often marketed as Chilean sea bass and sold at high prices in the United States, Asia and around the world, has been certified by the international non-profit Marine Stewardship Council as being caught sustainably.

New Zealand Longline is a 50-50 joint venture between Sealord and Talley's, and operates the Antarctic Chieftain and the Janas from Port Nelson. Both have been in port since mid-February and are due to resume fishing early next month. They caught about 3000 tonnes of toothfish last season.

The Christchurch-based Last Ocean Charitable Trust said a growing number of international environmental groups were calling for the entire Ross Sea to be designated a no-take marine reserve, and it was thrilled that Safeway had joined the quest.

However, Mr Tocker said there was a "cynical flavour" to the Safeway announcement.

"If you're a large company and you've got a bit of pressure on, and you aren't actually handling anything, then it's quite an easy thing to say, 'We're going to ban the future sales of toothfish', and you get yourself some quite nice points. It's easy to have a sacrificial lamb."

Mr Tocker said such statements didn't alter the fact that the fishery was highly sustainable, and well managed, with daily catch reporting and close monitoring.

He said while NZ Longline supported putting some areas into reserves, closing the whole Ross Sea to fishing was comparable to shutting the entire New Zealand exclusive economic zone, the world's fourth-largest.

He said toothfish was returning about US$22 a kilogram - twice the value of orange roughy - and being served in "top of the line white-table restaurants" around the globe.

Last May leading shipping company Maersk announced that it would no longer transport toothfish, orange roughy, shark or whale meat to overseas markets. Some other overseas supermarkets have also announced that they won't stock certain fish because of environmental concerns.

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