By Richard Gaines
The decision of the Walton Family Foundation to invest $36,341,561 in Environmental Defense Fund and other nonprofits helping the Obama administration re-engineer U.S. fisheries though catch share programs has produced a nascent campaign to boycott Wal-Mart stores.
The push back against the world's largest retailer began on North Carolina's Outer Banks, by North Carolina Watermen United, a group of perhaps 200 commercial, recreational, longliner and charter fishermen, and has been joined by the Recreational Fishing Alliance, with members in every coastal state, including Massachusetts.
The $2.2 billion Walton Family Foundation is led by descendents of Sam Walton, who founded Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas. A grandson, Sam R. Walton, was in 2008-2009 an EDF board member.
"We object to your sponsorship of catch shares," Britton Shackleford, president of Watermen United, wrote to members of Wal-Mart's Global Ethics Committee on Wednesday.
The organization said it "would like to inform both Wal-Mart Stores and the Walton Family Foundation that it has encouraged its members to begin a boycott of your stores immediately."
The RFA applauded and urged its members to follow the lead of the North Carolina fishermen.
"We're asking every fisherman not to go to Wal-Mart," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the RFA "Hunters, too."
In his letter to Wal-Mart, Shackleford went on to assert that, in supporting catch shares — a hotly disputed allocation system that EDF, and allied groups have been advocating for years, but is being for a rapid consolidation and job losses within the fishing industry — Wal-Mart has been violating its own ethical code which asserts that "...we will not participate in any activity intended to restrain trade..."
The catch share system typically leads to massive consolidation, as better capitalized fishing businesses push out the smaller operators, and small, independent boats, like those that dominate Gloucester's fleet are forced out of the industry.
Many environmental and consumer groups led by Food & Water Watch have condemned catch share programs, as inducing job destroying consolidation. But NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, a former board officer at EDF, came to office with President Obama in 2009 determined to convert the nation's fisheries to catch shares.
Soon after taking office, Lubchenco said she hoped and believed the introduction of catch shares to the New England groundfishery would lead to the elimination of a "sizeable fraction" of the fleet. And the consolidation the administration hoped for has been noted in preliminary assessments of the groundfishery's first year of catch shares.
But an anti-catch share amendment to the 2011 Continuing Budget Resolution in Congress, filed by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, passed the House by 100 votes and was approved in somewhat watered down form by the Senate.
Jones and his bipartisan allies have promised to press the issue again this year, while EDF and its allies — including some fishing groups that have received EDF and other nonprofit funding and other support — have also geared up to keep the corporately-backed catch share push on track.
Democratic Congressmen John Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester, and Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, support the Jones amendment.
Schackleford also wrote to Wal-Mart's Global Ethics Office that the Watermen United are aware that the funding for catch shares comes from the Walton Family Foundation, not Wal-Mart "per se."
"However," he added, "we also assume that both organizations are governed by the same set of principles.
Wal-Mart and EDF did not return phone calls for this story.
The protest was stirred by the Aug. 16 announcement from Bentonville by the Walton Family Foundation of a new suite of grants to EDF, World Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Marine Stewardship Council to create marine protected areas, privatize fisheries with catch share programs and advance the certification program of the Marine Stewardship Council.
For EDF, the interlocking directorships and joint campaigns with Wal-Mart is nothing new. As much as any group that puts itself in the green or environmental movement, EDF has aligned itself with concentrations of capital as a distinct strategic approach, arguing that influencing history is best done from the center of power.
Other recent and current allies of EDF include BP and KKR — an innovator in leveraged buyouts who partnered with EDF, Goldman Sachs and two other firms in the $44 billion takeover of TXU, the largest energy company in Texas.
A federal judge in Massachusetts recently expanded the scope of an antitrust lawsuit to include the discovery into the TXU purchase, based on the claim of a club of equity investors to limit competition and fix prices.
According to the research website, Fishtruth.net, non-profit foundations including the Walton Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation have invested nearly $500 million in shaping fisheries policies over the past decade, with much of it concentrated on privatizing the common seafood resources as the first step in creating global commodities trading.
Although a disputed position, the Walton Family Foundation and its partner EDF contend that catch shares are a conservation measure. Others argue that catch shares may engender efficiency, but have no impact on conservation.
"The foundation supports projects that reverse the incentives to fish unsustainably that exist in 'open access fisheries' by creating catch share programs," the Walton Family Foundation wrote in the announcement of the 2011 round of grants.
"Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents — namely large commercial fishing interests — this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices," wrote Food & Water Watch. "In addition, catch shares have drastically consolidated profits, eliminated jobs and decreased crew pay."
As to his group's boycott approach, said Shackleford, a charter fisherman in Manteo, Roanoke Island, N.C., "we're sending out post cards, doing what we can to raise awareness.
"There's been a lot of money invested in fishing interests," he said.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.