Whales behind Gorton’s ban in coast stores

Consumers looking for Gorton’s seafood will have limited access on the Mendocino Coast, where at least eight stores have emptied their shelves of the products environmental activists say are manufactured by a business with whaling ties.

“Japanese parent company Nissui annually slaughters hundreds of whales,” said Cindy Arch, who is working with Susan Nutter and the Mendocino Coast Environmental Center to bring the issue to the attention of coastal merchants and shoppers. “Since Nissui’s purchase of Gorton’s in 2001, nearly 3,000 whales have been brutally killed under the guise of scientific research,” she said.

However, Gorton’s vice president of marketing, Judson Reis, said neither Gorton’s nor its parent company, Nissui, are involved in killing whales.

“The Japanese government is responsible for what they term research whaling’ in Japan. The link our parent company has is that they are one-third owner in a company that leases the boats to the Japanese government, so it is one of those six degrees of separation linking the Japanese government program back to Gorton’s,” Reis told The Daily Journal on Wednesday.

“Having said that, what is most disturbing to us in this whole thing is we are as adamantly opposed to whaling as the people in California, and in Greenpeace, but we are between a rock and a hard place. We have no control over the Japanese government, so what we are doing is trying to encourage our parent company to sever any ties, however tangential they may be, with this Japanese government program. And we have done that repeatedly and will continue to do that with our parent company.”

Greenpeace initiated a campaign about a month ago to try to apply pressure on Gorton’s parent company, Nissui, Nutter said. “Nissui is one of the big whaling companies in the southern ocean at this minute,” she said.

Hence, as part of a local effort, about 1,500 signatures on petitions and postcards protesting Gorton’s role in Japanese whaling have been gathered in the last month, Nutter said, noting the postcards will be delivered to Gorton’s in April.

In a written statement, Reis emphasized that Gorton’s doesn’t kill whales.

“For the record, Gorton’s has never engaged in any whaling activities. The company has never killed a single whale in its entire 156-year history and never will,” he said. “Gorton’s has always been opposed to whaling, and we have met with our parent company, Nissui, to reiterate our opposition to whaling. Gorton’s has strongly encouraged Nissui both privately and publicly to use whatever influence they have to appeal to the Japanese government to stop any whaling. We have also asked them to sever any connections they might have with the Japanese government’s whaling program,” he said.

“Gorton’s has a long history and recognized commitment to environmental sustainability. For example, for a number of years we have been a strong financial supporter of the Whale Center of New England, a local environmental group focused on protecting whale populations. In a variety of forums we strongly advocate for and support responsible management of the ocean’s resources through the use of sustainable fishery practices,” Reis said.

Apparently not everybody is buying Gorton’s claim of innocence.

“Over here we kinda stress on the wildlife and the whales, and we are highly protective of the whales. I don’t see where being involved in any type of whaling is acceptable. … This whole community over here is all for Mother Nature. Most everybody that lives around here are fisherman or used to be fisherman and I don’t know of anybody in this area that is not supporting this ban on Gorton’s seafood,” said Mendosa’s store manager, Ron Locke.

It’s “the principle of the thing,” Albion Grocery owner Doug Hendricks said when asked why he no longer carries Gorton’s. “The Japanese and their whaling practices … Gorton’s is owned by them. I guess that is the whole idea of the boycott,” he said.

Gualala Supermarket also cleared its shelves of Gorton’s seafood.

“We don’t want to see the whales become extinct … we don’t want to support a company that is (helping) do that,” co-owner Debbie Regan said.

“Most people think whales are safe, but they aren’t safe at all,” Nutter said. “Most people don’t even realize there is whaling going on in Japan.”

The original whaling wars started on the Mendocino Coast in 1976 by a man named Byrd Baker, Nutter said.

“At that time, Russian and Japanese whaling boats were right off the coast. A very passionate artist/ sculptor from Mendocino started the Save the Whale campaign. His name was Byrd Baker, and he went all across the country with a car that was covered with Save the Whale. The campaign went nationwide. As a result, the federal government put a 200-mile limit along the coast that whale boats could not cross. That basically put a stop to whaling internationally, until this scientific loophole was discovered by Japan. … So we started the campaign again and the name of our campaign is Save the Whales Again,” she said.

“The best way to curtail whaling is to apply economic pressure against the whaling companies and the whaling nation,” Nutter said.

Safeway still carries Gorton’s products. However, a store manager did note that a lot of petitions regarding the whaling issue have been sent to the Safeway Corporation.

Nutter said she is waiting for a response from the large chain grocery store.