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Ten years after Greenpeace saw one of its ships seized by Russia, the same 166-foot icebreaker is docked at San Diego’s Broadway Pier.

Title of Greenpeace "Fake My Catch" report of 2022 is a play on "Trace My Catch" promise of seafood companies. (PDF)
Title of Greenpeace “Fake My Catch” report of 2022 is a play on “Trace My Catch” promise of seafood companies. (PDF)

The mission of the Arctic Sunrise is less dangerous this time. Instead of sending activists to board a Gazprom oil rig, it’s launching an effort to hold major seafood companies accountable for alleged human rights abuses.

The ship bears a banner: “Bumble Bee: Stop worker and ocean exploitation.”

Bumble Bee Seafood Co., whose U.S. headquarters is less than two miles from the pier, is the target of a petition drive to “end modern slavery in its supply chain.” More than 50,000 have signed, mostly in the United States, the group says.

Tuesday night, the Arctic Sunrise hosted a sunset screening of the documentary “Before You Eat,” a searing indictment of Chinese fishing vessels abusing (sometimes fatally) Indonesian crew members and the system that allows it.

One scene shows a woman in silhouette, her voice disguised, revealing that her “manning agency” employer that supplies crews said it was happy to see fishers die — so it could collect on insurance policies.

“This is the first screening of this film in the United States,” said John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA’s Oceans Campaign director, who briefly appears in the 100-minute movie.

Before now, only Indonesian audiences have seen the subtitled film depicting wage theft, horrific working conditions, “we eat like dogs” diets and weak government oversight.

Greenpeace USA  Chief Program Officer Tefere Gebre introduces film "Before You Eat."
Greenpeace USA Chief Program Officer Tefere Gebre introduces film “Before You Eat.” Photo by Ken Stone

An audience of 100 — including former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, other Greenpeace donors and reps of groups like Surfrider — sampled sushi and salad before the movie was shown on a big-screen TV.

“We expect that we will eventually see this on a streaming platform in the United States,” Hocevar told Times of San Diego. “I won’t predict how many people end up seeing it, but it’ll be available widely.”

The chilling film was shown on the ship’s helideck. It ended with captioned references to Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist.

But a Greenpeace official acknowledged to the audience afterward that details in the film didn’t directly implicate Bumble Bee in the horrors shown — including a crew member’s burial at sea.

Hocevar said the film showed “symptoms of Bumble Bee issues.”

Bumble Bee, queried about the Greenpeace events, said in a statement Wednesday:

Although we do not agree with many of the Greenpeace allegations, we do acknowledge that more progress is needed to ensure responsible labor practices are followed on all tuna vessels. The Bumble Bee Seafood Company continues to work within our supply chain, with others in the industry and with the Seafood Task Force to advocate for the responsible recruitment and treatment of all workers and to reduce IUU fishing worldwide.

IUU stands for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

However, Greenpeace a year ago released a study that directly ties Bumble Bee, and other companies, to such practices.

Asked for comment on the Bumble Bee statement, Greenpeace USA’s senior human rights advisor for global fishing, Sari Heindrich, said via email:

Words are cheap, and for each day that passes with little action from Bumble Bee, fishers in the seafood supply chain work in brutal and inhumane conditions, and our oceans deteriorate.

The incremental changes they are touting won’t produce real results in their supply chain. Bumble Bee must do a better job of living its claimed values by taking bold and immediate action to lead a significant transformation in the seafood industry.

Some immediate and tangible actions they can take to prevent tainted seafood from being sold in the U.S. include adopting a robust human rights due diligence process aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, completing and publishing oversight of fishing vessels and practices, strengthening observer protections and establishing a time-bound plan to phase out transshipment (moving fish catch to refrigerated vessels in order to extend voyage duration) at sea.

On board the Arctic Sunrise, Hocevar was asked why years of targeting Bumble Bee (now owned by Fong Chun Formosa of Taiwan) haven’t borne fruit.

Banner on Greenpeace ship says: "Bumble Bee: Stop worker and ocean exploitation."
Banner on Greenpeace ship targets San Diego-based company Bumble Bee Seafood. Photo by Ken Stone

“I would say that Bumble Bee has invested more in PR than they have in solutions,” he said, “and so our goal at this point is really just to show them that it’s in their own interest to actually become the company that they represent themselves as and that … the way they’ve been operating exposes themselves to enormous risk.”

Hocevar said the San Diego firm has resisted taking responsibility for what happens in its supply chain.

“They’ve pointed to things like — on the cans that you can supposedly trace the catch back to the fishing vessel [source],” he said.

But as the 2022 report “Fake My Catch” documents, “that doesn’t seem like it works very well really much of the time,” he said.

“They’ve used things like that as a kind of a shield — you know — ‘there’s nothing to see here. We’re doing this thing which no one else is doing.’ Yeah. Meanwhile the practices haven’t really changed.”

 Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar appears in film.
Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar appears in film. Photo by Ken Stone

The Arctic Sunrise (sister ship of the more famous Rainbow Warrior) is visiting San Diego ahead of what Greenpeace calls a major global campaign to call on world leaders to ratify the Global Ocean Treaty and protect 30% of the oceans by 2030.

Greenpeace will unveil a report next week “that will highlight the threats facing our oceans,” it says. “Fully or highly protected ocean sanctuaries, which can be established under the treaty, are a key solution to the ocean crisis. These sanctuaries provide a safe haven for marine life to recover and thrive free from human pressures.”

The latest petition — after a similar one two years ago — is addressed to new Bumble Bee CEO Jerry Chou and adds a demand that the San Diego company “address the root causes of alleged human rights abuses and illegal fishing in FCF’s supply chain, including through increased worker engagement,” a spokeswoman said.

“Additionally, included in the signatures we will deliver … are approximately 8,000 signatures on a Greenpeace Taiwan petition making similar asks of Bumble Bee’s owners, FCF.”

Early next week, the Arctic Sunrise sails to Long Beach, where Greenpeace will support local Indigenous groups as they call for the Chumash National Heritage Sanctuary off the coast of Central California.

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Meanwhile, Greenpeace leader Hocevar says he hopes the documentary that premiered Tuesday “resonates with people and moves them.”

(A decade ago, the documentary “Blackfish” slammed SeaWorld treatment of killer whales and sent attendance plunging here and elsewhere.)

With a rap song accompanying the closing credits, “Before You Eat” was executive produced by Arifsyah Naution, Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Oceans Campaign Lead, in collaboration with SBMI, the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union.

Has the film been pitched to any major distributor — or broadcast or cable networks? 

“That’s the plan,” Hocevar said. “The plan is to have this widely available. … It’s just starting.”