By Richard Gaines
The Walton Family Foundation has announced making $71 million in conservation grants last year, including more than $13 million to the Environmental Defense Fund, the nonprofit giant with which it joined in producing a controversial 2008 paper on fisheries to push the controversial catch share fishery management system.
In a press release issued last Wednesday — three days after The New York Times published a massive expose of corporate corruption by Walmart in Mexico and a cover-up at headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. — the $3.5 billion foundation controlled by descendants of the retailing colossus linked their grants together by the term "conservationomics."
The Walton foundation has given EDF, the driving force behind fishing's catch shares, more than $40 million in the five years beginning with 2007.
In a release, Scott Burns, environmental focus area director for the foundation, defined it to mean "that conservation solutions (that) will last are the ones that make economic sense."
But outside the foundation, EDF, which has had a corporate partnership with Walmart since 2005, and the minority within the fishing industry that has taken grants from EDF, the Obama administration's catch share policy, adopted as if the paper "Oceans of Abundance" were a economic engineering blueprint, is seen as a hyped-up excuse to replace the local, owner-operator business model still prevalent in most U.S. fisheries with one that better integrates global marketing principles, including investor-inviting consolidation.
Critics cite the elimination of family-owned farms and mom-and-pop shops as indicators of where the catch share policy, promoted in "Oceans of Abundance" by the Walton Family Foundation, EDF and their partners, will take the nation's fisheries.
"'Oceans of Abundance' is propaganda," Brian Rothschild, the distinguished marine scientist at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It's hard to know where to start critiquing it, there are so many misleading statements."
Among the wildest were claims that "scientists report 90 percent of large fish" are gone, and a "scientific consensus" that due to the fundamental alternation of ecosystems by fishing, seas "are increasingly likely to yield massive swarms of jellyfish rather than food fish."
Both claims woven together by the authors — including Jane Lubchenco, who was then a marine scientist at Oregon State University and an EDF board director, and would be named by President Obama to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and implement EDF's catch share proposal — have been widely rebutted and refuted.
The jellyfish-centered narrative was most recently attacked in the February issue of BioScience. The peer-reviewed work of 18 scientists reported finding no signs that human and natural factors were clearing the way for jellyfish mastery of the seas.
"Coupled with media-driven perception," wrote the team headed by Robert H. Condon, of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, "a paradigm has evolved in which the global ocean ecosystems are thought to be heading toward being dominated by 'nuisance' jellyfish."
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, including Democratic Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, has called for Lubchenco to be dismissed and the catch share policy ended.
Since 2005, EDF, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, has maintained a partnership with Walmart, opening an office in Bentonville to advise the $421 billion retailer how to operate more sustainably.
EDF, which also pushed the land-based "cap and trade" air pollution legislation, stands out among non-government organizations for its penchant to help conglomerates Walmart, McDonald's, BP and the private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts work with environmental problems. Skeptics accuse EDF of "greenwashing" their partners' images.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464 or email@example.com.