Berkowitz Does Disservice to Gloucester Fishermen and Sustainable Seafood Dialog

Since I first broke this story on December 21, 2010 (see Legal Sea Foods "Promoting Sustainability?") Legal Sea Foods has been BOTH claiming to want an open dialog on sustainable seafood AND refusing to answer any of my questions.

It now seems they are in attack mode. While their marketing director, Ida Faber, told me it was "perhaps unfortunate" that they chose the word "blacklist" it is now clear that this was, in fact, deliberate and calculated to provoke, as they have continued to use that term in further press.

Roger, that dog won't hunt.

While disclaiming a desire to besmirch anyone, Legal Seafoods' attacks organizations like the Chefs Collaborative which has bent over backwards to bring ALL voices to the table, to include all perspectives in the discussion of what all of us would admit is a very tricky subject. Indeed, at their recent summit held here in Boston, there were as many chefs and purveyors on one side of the debate as there on the other. It's an exceedingly difficult topic, which by its very nature, changes rapidly. Right and wrong are not absolute and are shifting. In fact, to say there are only two sides in this debate is to sorely underestimate its complex nature. All the more reason to have an honest and transparent dialog and to rid the discussion of smarmy tactics like unnecessarily inflammatory positions and words.

If you truly want to have an open dialog about a topic which everyone acknowledges is difficult, you don't engender trust and credibility by launching unfounded ad hominem attacks.

"I always found it curious that chefs and restaurateurs were the last to get information about sustainable seafood. Oftentimes it was from Monterey [Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program] that blacklisted everything, or a group like Chefs Collaborative-- you get a group of people that work off a particular science, and I would argue that science isn't necessarily balanced," Berkowitz told Slashfood in a telephone interview.

There was this gem from the Gloucester Times:

Describing the dinner co-hosted by the completely-mute Culinary Guild of New England as "a one-night event featuring so-called "black-listed" fish in a presentation dripping with political juice. The target: "Brainwashing" environmental activists, as Legal President and CEO Roger Berkowitz put it, who label seafood and advise consumers what seafood to buy and what not to eat. Berkowitz added: "There's no scientific basis for what they are saying," Berkowitz said of the labelers (which he says includes: the EDF, the Marine Stewardship Council, Seafood Watch, and Blue Ocean Institute.)

Legal "Blacklist" Meal Backs Fishermen

Now even Fast Company has weighed in, suggesting that Berkowitz' true motive is to bait the press and gain more attention by using deliberately provocative language. "The dinner is undoubtedly a marketing ploy for Legal Seafood, but Berkowitz says that improving seafood legislation is one of his passions."

While the Culinary Guild remains silent (neither they nor Bill Holler Legal's corporate buyer have returned my calls to date), Legal Seafoods continues to say that they are genuinely open to dialog and that they perhaps chose "unfortunate" words in the initial invite. Perhaps they think we don't read, or don't share information, we "brainwashers" "eco-labelers" and "blacklisters".

I keep trying to separate a communications TACTICS from the CONTENT of the message. I keep trying to give Legal Seafoods the benefit of the doubt. This is not an either/or debate, we need to have balanced, honest and diverse voices at the table. Inflammatory language and mudslinging has no place in responsible dialog.

Berkowitz is too successful for anyone to think these were careless remarks from a foolish man. This emperor has no clothes.


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