A Science Voice from New Zealand

Sealord Ads

by Bill Morris

The recent Saatchi – commissioned advertisements for Sealord may have you wondering how much truth there is to their message – are the ads a clear reflection of what Sealord is really about, or simply another example of expensive greenwash, designed to win over increasingly eco-conscious consumers?

Sealord’s main catches are hoki, orange roughy and tuna. Much of the tuna is caught in the Western Pacific using controversial fish aggregating devices, which attract other species including turtles and sharks. There are also major concerns about the bottom trawling techniques used by Sealord and other companies to catch species like Orange roughy and hoki.

Orange Roughy stocks have crashed as a direct result of overfishing. Hoki stocks have also crashed in New Zealand over the past decade. Despite MSC re-certification to the fishery there are still serious concerns about hoki numbers. A recent increase in stock estimates has seen the Total Allowable Catch cautiously lifted, which the industry trumpets as evidence of the Quota Management system working. However the current TACC is still almost half what it was a decade ago. American retailers raised their concerns about the state of the stock in 2009 and at least one major chain refused to stock it.

Sealord’s website states:

Sealord’s fishing techniques are not destructive and do not cause any significant adverse impacts. Our goal is to minimise our impact as much as possible and to constantly monitor and do research into this.

However bottom trawling has been proven to be incredibly destructive to deep sea habitat, especially on fragile sea mounts where slow-growing corals attract schools of long-lived fish like orange roughy. Also there is no question that deep sea fishing has had a huge impact on deep sea fish species like Orange Roughy and hoki.


There is no question that New Zealand’s deep sea fishing industry is economically very important. This graph, taken from the Ministry of Fisheries website, shows that despite a dramatic decrease in amount of hoki being caught, the value of the export has actually risen steadily. This is perhaps party due to value-adding work by the industry, but its also an indication of the vast, rising demand that exists for fish products in America and elsewhere.

As the Sealord TV ad says ” People around the world can’t get enough of our fish.”

Recent increases in hoki numbers may well be a sign of the quota management system working – but only time will tell. Sensible management of our deep sea fisheries is crucial to ensuring we still have access to this resource for the future.  The truth of what’s really going on the deep sea is something science is scrambling ahead of fishing industry to understand, which is why the utmost caution is needed in management of these fisheries. Will there still be stocks of hoki and orange roughy to catch in twenty years time, or will we have scooped them up (destroying much of their habitat in the process) in order to satisfy a bloated American market looking for cheap fish flavour?

What are your thoughts about the Sealord ads?




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