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Fisheries outraged by WWF video touting sustainable seafood

An online video campaign designed to build consumer confidence in sustainable seafood has sparked outrage in the B.C. and Alaska fishing industry.

While a song titled Happy Go Lucky Me plays, the animated video features a tractor pulling an enormous net that captures farm animals, uproots trees and causes widespread destruction on the property. The marketing spot carries the tag line: "We don't farm like this. Why do we fish like this?"

World Wildlife Fund Canada agreed to remove the 75-second video from its website and YouTube last week at the request of the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based group that certifies wild-caught sustainable seafood.

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The group's blue MSC eco-labels are placed on retail products, after they pass scientific standards and meet guidelines for best practices for catching seafood.

Representatives of the B.C. and Alaska fishing sector are still seething, saying the video appeared for one week on WWF Canada's website and YouTube, and also the Facebook page of the Loblaws grocery chain. The video had been intended to generate buzz on social media in a joint campaign by WWF Canada and Loblaws.

Christina Burridge, executive director of the B.C. Seafood Alliance, and James Browning, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, said in interviews that they pressed MSC to force WWF Canada to pull the video. The two fishing industry leaders said the cartoon was a silly and offensive attempt to promote MSC-certified seafood. The video backfired and angered the fishing community, which relies on using an array of gear, including trawl nets, they said.

Mr. Browning and Ms. Burridge, who is also chairwoman of the Association of Sustainable Fisheries, criticized MSC for allowing its logo to be used in the video in the first place.

MSC chief executive Rupert Howes wrote a letter to Ms. Burridge to assure her that he doesn't endorse the video.

"Although MSC was aware of the WWF Canada initiative, on this occasion something clearly went wrong," Mr. Howes said. "I have instigated an internal review to ensure lessons can be learned and our protocols and procedures can be strengthened further."

Stephen Jurisic is an executive creative director at Toronto-based John St. Advertising, which produced the video in collaboration with WWF Canada and Loblaws.

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"The video is kind of a guilty pleasure. You have to keep people engaged," Mr. Jurisic said. He defended the effort to create what he views as a provocative film that puts a spotlight on overfishing.

Still, he said he recognizes that his client, WWF Canada, had to deal with the fallout. "You park the ad and move onto the next thing. That's advertising," Mr. Jurisic said.

WWF Canada and Loblaws have apologized for what they characterize as a social media project with good intentions that missed the mark.

"Increasingly, retailers such as Loblaws have made powerful commitments to only source from MSC supply," said Robert Rangeley, conservation vice-president at WWF Canada.

"The creative folks at John St. and our team sought to use a bold and perhaps an extreme metaphor to raise key issues about challenges facing our oceans, including habitat destruction. The aim is to call attention to consumers to buy MSC-certified products, but our message wasn't clear and it was misinterpreted. So, we pulled the video."

A Loblaws spokeswoman added that the intention is to be supportive of MSC-certified fisheries, and the video meant to criticize the negative impact of inappropriate uses of fishing gear while urging consumers to look for the blue MSC eco-label when making seafood purchases.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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