A Fairy Story: McDonald’s, Marine Stewardship Council, Filet O’Fish and the Certification of New Zealand hoki


I read in Cameron Slater‘s blog whaleoilbeefhooked’ on Monday (29 Jan) that:

McDonald’s has signed on with the Marine Stewardship Council to show that the fish it serves is caught in an environmentally responsible manner. Obviously some focus groups have told them that this matters to people. However they have copped some flak including the certification of NZ Hoki for the New Zealand market.

Some of the council’s decisions have met with wide criticism, including the certification of a fish called the New Zealand hoki that McDonald’s serves in some Filet-O-Fish sandwiches outside the United States. The council has also certified as sustainable fisheries for which scientists say the data is so scarce that any management plan is pure guesswork, including those of the Antarctic krill and the Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish.

This surprises me a bit, New Zealand has a great reputation for fisheries management. Probably some green wanker having a go at us.

This sparked my curiosity because I agree with Cameron’s conclusions. So I started to fossick – starting of course with the enclosed link New York Times article. And I realised that the offending article was indeed penned by a green wanker.

The article by David Jolly reasserted McDonald’s announcement that it had partnered with MSC:

The most tangible effect of the sustainability imprimatur is that, beginning next month, Filet-O-Fish wrappers sold in the burger giant’s 14,000 American restaurants will display the Marine Stewardship Council label. McDonald’s also announced on Thursday that it would roll out a new promotional menu item in February called Fish McBites — think chicken nuggets, only made from pollock — that would also carry the council’s label.


MSC Certified New Zealand hoki

With regard to hoki, MSC certification and discontinued use by MacDonald’s for the Filet-o-fish Article said:

The world’s biggest fast-food company announced last week that its sourcing of fish for the United States market, which is entirely wild-caught Alaska pollock, had been certified by the council, perhaps the best-known organization promoting sustainable fishing around the world.

David Jolly also wrote in his fairy story that featured on his New York Times blog [Green]:

“McDonald’s did not have to do much to comply with the council’s requirements. Susan Forsell, McDonald’s vice president for sustainability, said that under the company’s own in-house sustainable fisheries program, which began 10 years ago, 100 percent of McDonald’s fish is already purchased from fisheries that have received stewardship council certification.

In Europe, where McDonald’s products rely on both the Alaskan pollock and sustainable European fisheries, the council’s logo already appears on the company’s packaging, Ms. Forsell said.”

Sometimes omission is just as powerful in writing as admission. Europe also uses New Zealand MSC certified hoki in their ‘filet-de-poisson’ [-o-fish] sandwiches.

However just when we begin to think Mr Jolly was about to depart from his usual style of sowing seeds of social and economic unrest in the name of environmentalism (as it interpreted urbanite greenies) and disappoint his avid readership; he comes through in the nick of time with a series of lightening negative strokes and cynical overtures:

“How good the deal is for the fishery, or sustainability in general, is less clear. As I’ve reported in the past, many fisheries scientists are skeptical about the value of the Marine Stewardship Council’s stamp of approval. The organization, founded in 1995 to provide a market-based solution to overfishing, assesses fisheries on the basis of three major criteria: the quality of stock management and the health of the stock and the ecosystem that supports it.

Some of the council’s decisions have met with wide criticism, including the certification of a fish called the New Zealand hoki that McDonald’s serves in some Filet-O-Fish sandwiches outside the United States. The council has also certified as sustainable fisheries for which scientists say the data is so scarce that any management plan is pure guesswork, including those of the Antarctic krill and the Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish.”

And as what is usually the case – bollicks begets bollicks and another story written by another self-ordained ‘environmental watchdog’ is written, unimpeded by any deference to fact or context. This one by New Zealand journalist, Micheal Field.

In this story that featured in the Southland Times, McDonalds US stops using hoki in restaurant meals, Mr Field propagates a opacity with minimal recourse to fact, and little concern about the social-economic fallout that could come of it.

Hoki & McDonalds

Filet-o-fish illustration and caption that featured in the story by Micheal Field. US stops using hoki in restaurant meals. Southland Times. 29 Jan 2013

How misleading is this illustration and caption above that features was in Mr Field’s Article? 

Notwithstanding the plentiful information available on the status of the New Zealand hoki fisheries, its record 3rd  MSC certification and McDonald’s local sourcing policy, as well as information received when researching his stories – Mr Field artfully employs innuendo, point placement, deliberate source identification, and selective quoting to dis-inform his readers and create a storm in a teacup when none exists… either to sell papers, to engage in advocacy, further a personal point of view, or all three.

Did anyone notice that the person who made the statement that “the reason for the use of American Pollack [by MacDonald USA] is due to the promotion of American products in its market and for consistency” was Don Carson Senior Communications Advisor for Seafood New Zealand? Is he an authority McDonald’s US commodity sourcing policy? The previous quote was by McDonald’s own US public relations manager Christine Tyler is who advised that “the company decided to stop using hoki in its Hawaiian operations in order to leverage our scale and simplify our supply chain.” “Rest assured it wasn’t due to sustainability concerns” Mr Field had Ms Tyler saying in a separate quote. The quote from  Carson would have been persuasive if attributed to Tyler. Attributing it to a seafood New Zealand employee does the opposite… doesn’t it? But then I wager Micheal Field knows this.

Mr Field then punctuated these series of quotes with his reference to the US media and Mr Jolly himself:

“Some of the council’s decisions have met with wide criticism, including the certification of … New Zealand hoki. “

Field then wrote:

“MSC first certified hoki in 2001, and then reassessed it in 2011”

He knows very well that it was recertified as sustainable by MSC in 2007, and again in 2012. Field then supplied an opaque reference in an MPI statement with economic overtones in order to instil a “yeah right” response in his reader…

“The Ministry for Primary Industry describes the hoki fisheries as being “in a healthy condition with stock sizes above the level that produces a maximum sustainable yield”

Micheal Field knows very well that the New Zealand hoki fisheries are completely rebuilt, and have abundances in a range that well exceed the level that produces a maximum sustainable yield.

I find this kind of journalism mischievous and professionally unscrupulous. I would respect Field’s journalism if he put it out there as clear opinion… But I can’t have respect for a journalist who employs every journalistic trick in order to pass off as fact the fluff that when denuded of its context is tenuously capable of filling the space between fiction and fact.

The kind of journalist that creates scare stories where none exist, without turning their mind to the consequences and the potential socio-economic fallout, is as close to an economic saboteur as we have in this country. Its recklessness.

Stories like this put jobs in jeopardy, create ripples in export markets, and undermine the uncountable thousands of dollars and the hard work of many good people who actually get out there, and get their hands dirty, to ensure that the New Zealand hoki fisheries are able to meet the rigorous MSC standard.

McDonalds Corparate Responsibiity

So what is really happening in McDonald’s USA and Hawaii with MSC certified Alaskan pollack and New Zealand hoki? Its easy…Corporate responsibility and local commodity sourcing policy (where possible).

From sourcing sustainable and locally caught fish (in this case Alaskan Pollack)

to locally grown potatoes…

and locally and sustainably grown lettuce

According to Burger Business:

“The hottest culinary trend is locally sourced meats and seafood, according to the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2011” chefs survey. Never one to shun a trend, McDonald’s is showing that burger chains as well as fine-dining restaurants can source locally.

Consumers are more interested in quality, sourcing and food safety than ever before, and for all the right reasons,” says Jeff Kroll, SVP-National Supply Chain for McDonald’s Canada in a realease issued today. The announcement also includes a quote from Travis Toews, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, saying McDonald’s “support for our industry is exceptional.”


Angus 3rd Pounder. McDonald’s Canada

The Grand Angus and Mighty Angus burgers sold in Australia and New Zealand are marketed as 100% locally sourced beef. The Australia rollout included a “Hand In Hand with Australia” TV commercial spotlighting the chain’s long relationship with the country’s [farmers].


The Mighty Angus. McDonald’s New Zealand and Australia

This is exactly the same with fish. 

According to McDonald’s New Zealand who use ONLY MSC certified locally sourced New Zealand hoki:

Our fish are caught in some of the world’s cleanest waters off the South Island by Talley’s Fisheries. The hoki fish fillets we use to prepare our super-delicious Filet-O-Fish burgers are renowned for their succulent moist texture, white flesh and great mild taste. That’s why we use them!

McDonald’s USA hasn’t used New Zealand hoki for awhile – and McDonald’s Hawaii has confirmed that it is moving away from Hoki to Alaskan Pollock. It also confirmed that this decision is both unrelated to the MSC certification announcement, nor to any hoki sustainability issues. The reason for the move so simple its silly:

McDonald’s has a new ad [above] regarding its fish suppliers and the decision was made so that the ad did not need disclaimers. Prior to this decision Hawaii was the only McDonald’s US market that didn’t use Alaskan Pollock.

McDonald’s in New Zealand sources 100% of its fish locally, and uses hoki exclusively. And I believe McDonald’s in Europe still uses hoki in their Filet-o-fish sandwiches… But with local sourcing being de rigeur who knows how long that will last.

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21 thoughts on “A Fairy Story: McDonald’s, Marine Stewardship Council, Filet O’Fish and the Certification of New Zealand hoki

  1. Pingback: Micheal Field’s Article: US stops using hoki in restaurant meals | Green Fish Blue Fish

  2. Pingback: A New Zealand Good News story… Finally: Albacore tuna, New Zealand hoki and New Zealand southern blue whiting certified sustaianble | Green Fish Blue Fish

  3. Pingback: Can Fish Eco-Labeling be Trusted? An MSC Label Can!! Right? | Green Fish Blue Fish

  4. Pingback: The Importance of ‘Certified Sustainable Eco-Labels’ in the Market | Green Fish Blue Fish

  5. Pingback: Fish at Lent? McDonald’s come to the Fête with Fishbites! | Green Fish Blue Fish

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    McDonalds, Economic Sabotage and the MSC Certification
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  14. Pingback: McDonald’s prefers that the Alaska At-sea Processors Association stay with MSC Certification? | Green Fish Blue Fish

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