On Nov 17 2011, the sales manager of Thern Da Seafood posted an incendiaryFacebook status update pissing off more than just a few people.
Yesterday, a Facebook page for the same company popped up with a copy of the sales manager’s previous status, announcing that TDS Shark fin and Mola mola products would be available at NTUC Fairprice (known to be the ‘community’s’ supermarket) outlets across Singapore by Chinese New Year – a time when many Chinese families traditionally eat Shark Fin soup.
What followed was a flurry of social media activity. Shares, likes, expressed dislikes and comments by divers and non-divers alike. Opinions were voiced, some aggressive towards the sales manager, some expressing disbelief, others pleading to NTUC to adopt logic and responsibility. It generated over 200 shares and 150 comments, and within a few hours comments were disabled, and just after that the entire page removed.
There are several shocking aspects to this status, not least the epic fail in public relations. Apparently divers had seen the original status update and had been discussing it on online forums, as well as commenting on the status. Unfortunately for our vocal sales manager – his proverbial ‘up yours’ seems to have backfired.
All publicity may have been good publicity in the days before social media, but with the speed that information can be shared nowadays, you’ve no chance to control the story! Furthermore, deleting information off the Internet is pretty much useless – print screen is your worst enemy.
Alienating a particular group of people may work for Dictators (at least for a while), but when you casually attack a group of people because of their hobby, something they love in an environment they love, expect a loud, widespread and emotional response.
Remember, the Singapore dive community were instrumental in the campaign to cease plans to capture a Whale Shark for the aquarium in Resorts World Sentosa. A campaign which was successful.
So good choice. Well done.
But enough about the small potatoes. The real fish to fry is the reason why Mola mola is even being sourced for sale.
Singapore has long been one of the hubs of the Shark Fin controversy. We have all heard the arguments for both sides. Of tradition vs. conservation. But what may have looked like a losing battle ten years ago, now looks more like unequal ground. Steps have been made. Awareness has been raised. And there is a growing proportion of (mostly) young Singaporean that are abstaining.
In my opinion, these people are heroes. To stand up against your family and Chinese New Year and say “No, not eating that” is asking for trouble. Peer pressure (or rather family pressue is enormous). To say “No, I won’t come to your [best friend’s] wedding if you serve Shark Fin is a request for being socially outcast. But it’s happening. The anti-shark fin movement has gained a lot of traction worldwide over the last couple of years. Well deserved after decades of hard work.
But Mola mola? There’s no campaign for them. Though I think the Mola Mola Movement has the power of three AND alliteration behind it. I had no idea people were even eating it until this controversy.
It looked like an alien. A sad, and lonely alien. I had never even heard of it before and it rekindled my wonder at the diversity of our oceans.
Mola mola is the heaviest bony fish. It can weigh up to 2,300 kilogrammes! It has often been spotted sunbathing at the surface of the ocean – giving it’s other name the Oceanic Sunfish. Its skin is made up of collagen. Sound’s great, right ladies? Except it’s the reason for its exploitation.
Mola mola soup is marketed as containing collagen – good for your skin and joints. Apparently. But even dietary supplements containing collagen have no scientifically proven benefits, let alone consuming it in a soup.
Furthermore collagen has been identified as a poor source of protein, as it doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids in the quantities required by the human body.
So it’s not good for you. In fact, it may even be bad for you. Mola mola skin is infamous for being infested by parasites, over 40 species in fact. It is also a predator that feeds at several depths of the ocean, and at different levels in the food web making it susceptible to the bioaccumulation of toxins like Mercury. This already a documented problem with sharks, dolphins, tuna and many more.
Who wouldn’t want a bowl full of toxic parasite soup?
The point I want to get across is not the attack of one measly, unimportant individual, but the need for a collective responsibility for sustainable seafood. It lies with you and me as consumers, with suppliers and with retailers.
We need to work towards safe seafood.
Safe for consumption.
Safe for the environment.
Safe for the species.
And honesty about the benefits a product claims to have.
This story doesn’t have silver lining. It has a platinum one. Less than 24 hours after the Facebook page was removed, NTUC released this statement:
So screw you right back Thern Da Seafood. Not only did you shoot yourself in the foot, but you forced a major supermarket chain into making the decision you worked so hard to prevent.
Now, that’s what I call karma.
Notes: This mini controversy has kick started the anti-shark fin movement in Singapore in the run up to Chinese New year. Follow the group born from Thern Da outrage to see updates.