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Just say nyet to Russian fish

Russia’s outrages, from its unflinching support for the murderous regime of Bashar Assad in Syria to its violent and illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine to its apparent complicity in shooting down a civilian airliner over Ukrainian airspace last week, killing more than 290 innocent people, are affronts to the civilized world.

President Obama, joined by many allies, has levied an escalating series of targeted economic sanctions against Russia, which are beginning to put serious strain on its fragile economy. According to several new public opinion polls, anti-Russian sentiment is growing among ordinary Americans, and Obama is no doubt considering a further turning of the screws to signal America’s indignation at Russia’s behavior and to attempt to change it.

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 Families across America don’t have to wait; they can stand up to Vladimir Putin, and they need look no further than their grocer’s shelves and local restaurants to do it. Boycott Russian fish.

In 2013, Russian companies caught almost 4.3 million tons of fish, putting Russia in the top 10 of the world’s fishery producers and employing hundreds of thousands of Russians. President Putin considers fisheries a “strategic” sector and a key part of growing Russia’s gross domestic product. Pollock is the most important of Russia’s commercial catches, accounting for more than 60 percent of Russia’s total fish and seafood catch. The export of frozen, Russian-caught Pollock — much of it to America — amounted to nearly a half million tons, or 35 percent of Russia’s $2.4 billion seafood export sector. All of which makes a consumer boycott an easy choice for Americans seeking an outlet to express their feelings toward Russia.

Americans love seafood. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Americans consumed 4.5 billion pounds of seafood in 2013, nearly 16 pounds annually for every man, woman and child. Despite having the gold standard for fisheries here in the U.S., 91 percent of seafood consumed here is imported from places like Russia. Some may ask how Russian pollock came to so pervade the U.S. market when higher quality, more sustainably caught pollock is available from our own Alaska fleet. 

For one, some large U.S. buyers such as fast food restaurants and Big Box stores like the profit margins on cheap fish. But there’s more to it. Russian seafood has been shoved down Americans’ throats by a clever bit of branding. A European organization called the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has made a business for itself by “certifying” that fish are sustainably caught. However, MSC standards aren’t equal to the standards of U.S. fisheries. What’s more, the MSC certifies Russian pollock through its bush-league subsidiary called the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. The partnership is paid for by the fisheries as well as the buyers. That smells fishy to me.

To do their part for conservation, many American buyers like supermarkets, restaurant chains and others will buy only “sustainably” caught fish to sell to consumers. That’s how you get cheap Russian fish dumped into our country.

Everyday Americans can do their part by asking their supermarkets and restaurants where their seafood comes from. If the answer is Russia, ask for American alternatives. A new website, justsaynyet.org, also has a handy tracker of brands that sell Russian seafood. The point is, boycotting Russian fish strikes at the heart of a strategic Russian sector and supports one of America’s.  

Americans understand how the global economy can enrich us all by offering us choices. For Americans wishing to send Russia an unmistakable message, the choice is clear. Just say nyet to Russian fish.

 

Hochbrueckner represented New York’s 1st Congressional District from 1987 to 1995.