You Be the Ethicist: Is Kieran Driving Canadian Cod to Extinction?

I have a review coming out on Cooper, Kieran Folliard’s new St. Louis Park pub, in our January issue. One question I didn’t address in the review, however, was this: Is The Local, The Liffey, Cooper, and Kieran’s part of the problem in driving north Atlantic Cod to extinction?

I ask this because about two out of three people at one of Folliard’s incredibly popular pubs seem to order the fish & chips; if you specify traditional cod for your fish (instead of walleye or shrimp), you get north Atlantic cod fished from Canada. This is purely an educated guess, but I’d presume that Kieran’s various pubs combined have to be one of the biggest cod markets in the Twin Cities.

So, let’s talk Canadian cod. Now, as anyone with an iPhone can tell you, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch seriously frowns on Canadian cod, writing in their guide: “Avoid Atlantic cod from North America. Decades of severe overfishing has resulted in massive population declines. Scientists agree that we’re now fishing the last 10% of this population and that the population may never fully recover.”

However! Does the debate end there? I pressed Kieran Folliard about his cod supplier and he explained that while it’s part of his core mission to provide affordable food to people (and that’s why he buys Canadian cod), he never wants to be part of a fish’s extinction, so he has made this clear to his supplier, and thus he only buys environmentally appropriate sustainable cod. (We’ll leave aside the price point here, noting that Cooper’s Canadian cod costs $11.99, versus The Anchor Fish & Chips’ inarguably sustainable Pacific cod, which sells for $8.50.) To prove his point, Kieran even supplied an e-mail he got from his fish supplier, the Canadian company Ocean Choice International LP, vouching for that company’s environmental stewardship. I’ll reprint it in full here:

“Our company participates in the collection of marine data for further scientific and development with our local government and we will move towards MSC certification when it becomes available to us. We currently have MSC certification for Ice Shrimp (we are the largest supplier in Canada of this and product about 16 percent of the world’s supply) and yellowtail flounder (our largest species) is going through the MSC certification process at the moment and within a few months expect to be awarded that. We are also moving ahead with crab and lobster and we expect the be the largest MSC Certified supplier in Canada by the end of 2010. We take sustainability very seriously. If you google MSC and Fishing companies in Canada, you will see reports in there with our name and what we do.

The other thing I can tell you is that we own 18 plants, 9 vessels and place great importance on quality and sustainability and the ability to trace product. We have been doing a high volume of business in Europe and Asia for many years and the European community is very big on this. Each case of product produced has a code date, vessel number, time processed etc to ensure safety and quality standards are at the very best. We do not purchase products from other seafood suppliers without consent of our customers. The cod you are buying is fished and processed by us in Canada only and once frozen only.”

So, Kieran Folliard feels he is doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace spent last summer making trouble up in Canada with their billboard campaign announcing, “There probably is no cod.”

Of course one takes Greenpeace with a grain of salt, but I put it here because the scientifically minded may want to click through to their supporting research, like reports from the Canadian Fisheries arm of the Canadian government. (Anyone wondering why—if cod are so endangered—Canadians don’t simply outlaw catching them is encouraged to read this depressing article from Canadian Geographic.)

As I mentioned a long time ago, you won’t see this debate about Canadian cod in my review of Cooper, because it got too complicated for my pea-sized brain, and I couldn’t make it fit into the review. So, I am turning to you, because over the years I have realized that many of you are better and more complexly educated on these topics than I am. So, please, won’t you be my ethicist? The questions on parade seem to be:

Is it right for Kieran to serve Canadian cod?

Should a restaurant-buyer take a supplier on their word? When and when not?

Is it more ethical to buy from Ocean Choice and pressure them to be sustainable, or is it more ethical to drop them and buy from someone who is?

If Kieran stops being an Ocean Choice customer who puts pressure on them to change, is he then responsible for the destruction that will happen as Ocean Choice serves less discerning customers who will, presumably, pay less, thus forcing Ocean Choice to fish every last fish out of the Atlantic in their effort to make up in volume what they lose in price?

Is it right for you to eat Canadian cod?

Do you care?

Any input will be gratefully received. Thanks!