Marketing and Comms
Long John Silver's Sustainable Fish Campaign Not a Fish Tale After All

As part of a recent brand relaunch, Long John Silver's (LJS) — the largest seafood restaurant chain in the US — is on a mission to get more US consumers to "Think Fish."

The new campaign promotes seafood as a dining option that’s healthy for people and for the world at large: Two new TV spots point out advantages of fish over meats such as beef and pork, while a third, called "Final frontier," shows cows confined on a farm while a narrator asks, "Anyone ever heard of free range? Get your next meal from the real frontier — fish sustainably harvested from the wildest place on earth."

The sentiment behind the message — promoting seafood as a more sustainable protein source than land-based meats — is true in the best-case scenario, where the fish is responsibly sourced, and one that is smart to push to American consumers, who eat much more meat than fish.

In a post last week, I noted that on the “Think Fish” campaign page on its website, LJS asserts that all of the fish that it serves is “sustainably caught and harvested.” Specifically, the chain says it gets its wild-caught fish from “the deep waters of the Bering Sea” and harvests its lobster from “the icy shores of Northern Europe,” and a spokesperson told Ad Age that “non-core items such as shrimp are farmed.”

No further supplier information is available, but the site goes on to assert: “We continually look to partner with certified and sustainable suppliers in order to provide the best tastes the ocean has to offer. In 1989, we were the first fish house to adopt Alaska Pollock to curb over-fishing in the Pacific. Plus, we championed the 1998 American Fisheries Act that served to create quotas for commercial fishing.”

In my piece last week, I took LJS to task for the lack of transparency in the face of what is essentially its effort to draw the public’s attention not just to the health and sustainability benefits of seafood in general, but to LJS’ offerings in particular. The ambiguity of the messaging and apparent lack of certifications to back up LJS’ sustainability claims raised some red flags, especially since a growing number of retailers, brands and suppliers have recently committed to sustainable fishing practices, many of them through certifications or partnerships with organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and FishWise. Even McDonald’s has committed to using only MSC-certified Pollock in its Filet-o-Fish sandwich and Fish McBites. I asserted that certifications, while not always a guarantee of best practice, provide a level of oversight that consumers trust; by touting its sustainability and not providing any information on its supply chain, LJS is setting itself up for additional scrutiny.

In response, a representative from the restaurant chain promptly contacted me to inform me that the company’s two primary suppliers — Trident Seafoods and American Seafoods Group — are MSC-certified, which an MSC representative was kind enough to confirm. And a subsequent look at the types of fish being sourced against the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list confirmed that all of LJS' primary fish varieties fall into the list's "Best Choices" or "Good Alternatives" categories.

LJS CMO Charles St. Clair also had this to say: “Think Fish is a communications platform through which we can communicate about the many changes happening at Long John Silver’s. Sustainability of our seafood is a topic that consumers have become more interested in recently and we’re pleased to share information with them. All our wild caught fish, clams and crab cakes, which represent the majority of our seafood products, are sourced only from suppliers who are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The fisheries where our Alaska Pollock is wild caught are managed fisheries, which ensure the viability of the fish stocks, prevent overfishing and protect other species of fish. Our shrimp only comes from sources that meet the certification requirements from either the Aquaculture Certification Council or the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP).”

St. Clair recently admitted to Yahoo! News: "Our fish has always been sustainable, and we really haven’t told that story sufficiently to our customers in the past." Between a significant upward trend in environmentally conscious eating and the growing consumer demand for corporate transparency, I suspect more discerning foodies will appreciate readily available information on responsible dining options, especially in places such as Long John Silver’s, where you might not expect to find them.


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