Big Mac attack on Svalbard? Greenpeace says anti-fishing pact ‘big win,’ but impact on industry’s expansion dubious

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Greenpeace says it’s big news McDonald’s is agreeing not to buy cod caught in Svalbard and other Arctic waters. It might be even bigger if McDonald’s hadn’t stopped buying cod altogether nearly a decade ago.

The “big win for the Arctic” announced by the environmental organization this week involves a voluntary agreement companies such as the fast food giant, British grocer Tesco, and several seafood companies such as Young’s Seafood not to support an expansion of commercial fishing in the Arctic.

“This means that any fishing companies expanding into pristine Arctic waters will not be able to sell their cod to major seafood brands and retailers,” Greenpeace stated in a press release.

At least 70 percent of Atlantic cod sold to consumers is from the Barents Sea, according to Greenpeace.

Efforts to expand fishing and establish a processing industry in Svalbard are being aggressively pursued by government officials at the local and national level, as well as by several companies already planning to build facilities here. The industry is seen as one of the key pieces to establishing a new and sustainable economic base in the archipelago as coal mining comes to a near-halt.

Greenpeace is opposing the efforts as part of its campaign to largely end fishing and other industrial activities in the Arctic. The organization has stated it would support the commercial catching of snow crabs in Svalbard since they are an invasive species threatening other marine life.

But their arguments aren’t swaying policymakers and companies, and there appear to be practical and political limits to this week’s agreement.

McDonald’s, for instance, stopped purchasing cod in 2007 and has been relying exclusively on pollock since 2013.

Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, in an e-mail interview, stated the agreement isn’t likely to be a major factor in Svalbard’s fish industry aspirations.

“We have not directed ourselves towards a large market for cod or trawling,” he said. “As such, this agreement will certainly make things harder, but is nothing that will stop our thinking in terms of crab fishing.”

Olsen stated he believes fisheries resources are already well-managed in Svalbard, but expanding the industry raises issues – including some raised by Greenpeace – that need serious evaluation.

“It is wise to tread carefully when areas become larger and into more vulnerable areas,” he wrote “I gladly await a dialogue with Greenpeace about our plans.”