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Long John Silver's Touting Its Fish as Sustainable Dining Option; Will Its Claims Hold Water?

As part of a massive brand relaunch, seafood quick-service restaurant chain Long John Silver's (LJS) 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."

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.”

Owned by Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) until 2011, LJS is on a mission to revamp its image after taking a blow in July, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest called the chain's Big Catch plate "the worst restaurant meal in America," weighing in with a heart-clogging 33 grams of trans fat. Since then, LJS discontinued the Big Catch, committed to eliminating trans fats from its menu by the end of 2013, unveiled a menu featuring meals under 600 calories and is now touting the sustainability benefits of its responsibly sourced seafood. But the lack of specificity of supplier information means consumers will have to take LJS’ word on that.

A growing number of retailers, brands and suppliers have 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. Certifications, while not always a guarantee of best practice, provide a level of oversight that consumers trust; by not providing any information on their supply chain, LJS is setting itself up for additional scrutiny. If Mars Petcare can MSC-certify the fish used in its Sheba cat food, what is preventing LJS from attaining a similar stamp of approval?

A report released in August from the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) Innovation and Packaged Facts revealed that growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the global environment and food supply, along with increased education about ecologically sound foods, is leading to a long-term increase in environmentally conscious eating. Between that and the growing consumer demand for corporate transparency, I suspect discerning seafoodies will soon expect LJS to back up its sustainability claims with more than just pretty messaging.

Update: Long John Silver's Sustainable Fish Campaign Not a Fish Tale After All

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