Greenpeace cod funeral highlights Sobeys’ failure to protect overfished species

Feature story - March 18, 2010
Greenpeace mourners, complete with coffin and hearse, formed a funeral procession today to a Sobeys food store to mourn the loss of the Atlantic cod, an iconic species on the east coast.

Through its supermarket campaign, Greenpeace has been urging Sobeys to stop selling cod, one of 15 species on the Redlist of unsustainable seafood. Sobeys has refused to remove cod and other Redlist seafood from sale.

The procession, lead by a pallbearer with a placard reading: “Cod forgive us”, stopped at the Sobeys store at 1120 Queen Street. The coffin, containing a single cod head, was unloaded from the hearse and placed in front of the store where fresh Atlantic cod has been sold. The message on the coffin lid read: ‘Sobeys: stop selling fish to death.’

“As a Maritime company, it’s unacceptable that Sobeys isn’t taking action to protect our Atlantic species, especially cod, where the devastation of the species is so well documented,” said Sarah King, Greenpeace oceans campaigner. “Sobeys can’t justify selling this species to extinction.”

World Atlantic cod stocks have suffered severe overexploitation. Only a couple of stocks remain healthy enough to allow sustainable fishing. Eastern Canadian cod stocks collapsed in the early 1990s and have not recovered. The stock in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is expected to be extinct in 20 years if fishing continues and in 40 years even if it stops. Other stocks can be saved.


Stock assessments by the federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) 2009 show that fishing mortality remains too high for stock reconstruction and health. DFO scientists recommend keeping fishing mortality at the lowest possible level. This means a cut to cod fishing and a reduction in the incidental catch of cod in other fisheries.  

“Overfishing and indiscriminate fishing methods such as bottom trawling plague our oceans,” added King. “As long as we keep fishing, selling and buying from these overstressed fish stocks, cod won’t recover and a species that once filled our coastal waters will disappear forever.”  

The cod funeral builds on Greenpeace spoof ads last August modelled after a campaign about God on buses by an atheist group. The ads on billboards and buses in Halifax and Ottawa read: “There’s probably no cod. Now let’s stop overfishing and think of the future.” The ads reintroduced the plight of the cod to the public, and reminded DFO and seafood buyers that if they don’t protect cod now, there won’t be any left.

All eight of Canada’s largest retail chains sell Atlantic cod. The Greenpeace supermarket campaign calls on retailers to remove Atlantic cod from sale to allow stocks to recover. Greenpeace also urges retailers to adopt seafood policies that ensure only sustainable seafood products are available to their customers. Sobeys has not created one.