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Media Boogeyman: If Activists Scare You Away from Fish Oil, They Save the Fishes!


It’s a sad state of affairs when a “non-profit” activist group can get a grant from the federal government to launch a campaign to put commercial fisherman – who actually do hard work for a living – on the unemployment line.

It’s an even sadder state of affairs when the media assists in this effort.

So goes the latest round of attacks on the commercial fishing industry. Here’s the story for all of you folks out there who love your Omega-3 (Hint: go ahead and take it. There’s nothing to worry about).


There’s a wee little fishy in the Chesapeake Bay called the menhaden. Humans don’t eat them, but they are harvested because they are a great source of omega-3. The menhaden also eat a lot of phytoplankton and zooplankton, which makes them a good source of food for other predators. The activists would have you believe that commercial fisherman are running amok, gobbling up all the poor little menhaden and soon, there will be none left! With them gone, predators who live on menhaden will vanish, and the entire Chesapeake environment will be destroyed!

Except that’s not true at all.

In 2006, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission put a cap on the harvest of menhaden for a period of five years. The commercial fishing industry came nowhere near the cap, In fact, the AMB extended the cap to 2013! There are, indeed, plenty of menhaden in the sea.

Did the mainstream media report on this? Nope. Nor did they point out the obvious: if the commercial fisheries overharvest a population into endangerment, they will kill their own business!

So isn’t it interesting that less than three months after having lost that round, the Eco-Activists launched a California Prop 65 lawsuit, claiming undisclosed high levels of toxic PCB’s in fish oil supplements. This way, they hope to frighten us all away from buying fish oil, which will suppress demand, which will harm the commercial fishery business.


Never mind that PCBs were used so much from the early 1900’s up to 1979 that they are now ubiquitous in the environment. Never mind that the producers of fish oil have their products tested by third parties prior to distribution to make sure PCB levels are safe. Never mind that neither you nor I have ever heard of anyone dying from PCB exposure.

So, how difficult was it for me to round up the salient facts behind this story? Twenty minutes. Yet the mainstream media seems curiously inept at finding the facts in order to present – gasp! – both sides of the story. Are journalists really that lazy, or are they merely following the Eco-Friendly marching orders of their editors?

Do a Google search under “PCB fish oil” and what do you find? Article after article from mainstream media sources with a version of the same headline. Now read them. What do you find? A focus on fear. PCBs cause cancer! They may even have links to birth defects! It’s in your fish oil supplement! In other words, “Release the Boogeyman!”


Then have a look at how much print space is provided to the other side of the argument. Not much. You get a quote from the Council for Responsible Nutrition — a body devoted to protecting the supplement market. The outlets that at least try to make a stab at balance get a doctor to offer an opinion from the other side. Good Morning America at least gave one doc three short paragraphs. Otherwise, it’s all about the Boogeyman.

What might a real journalist do – one who wasn’t obviously biased towards Eco-Activists? For starters, take another look at who actually is named in the lawsuit: the largest producers of oil supplements. Why? Try to harm the biggest retailers and manufacturers and you harm the majority of the industry’s sales. Where’s the reporting on this angle? Non-existent.

How about the angle that only ten supplements were tested by the plaintiffs out of the hundreds on the market? Why hasn’t any reporter asked about the testing methods? What methods were used? What standards did they conform to?

Who exactly is the plaintiff – Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation? At least we have some intrepid bloggers who investigated exactly the kind of shady outfit Mateel is – one that makes profits from frivolous lawsuit settlements on the backs on the working people of America. As the Humboldt Mirror blog points out:

Mateel settled 39 lawsuits in 2008 for over $1.7 million….but it’s not just warning labels, product reformulations and excessive attorneys fees that Mateel is after. Through Prop. 65 lawsuit settlements, Mateel also pilfered … “other distributions” that was handed over to other environmental groups.

Oh, now the fact that the largest (read: deepest pockets) in the supplement industry got sued makes a little more sense, doesn’t it?

How’s that for real reporting?

Go back and look at all those articles you just Googled. Did any mainstream media outlet cover Mateel’s strategy? If you said “no”, then you win a pitchfork to help shove the PCB Boogeyman back in his closet.

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