Tuna Firms Object to Greenpeace Use of Their Mascots

Lawyers for some of the nation’s largest tuna fish companies have fired off cease and desist letters to the environmental group Greenpeace, objecting to the use of their familiar cartoon mascots in a video the industry considers violent and tasteless.

Fresh fish is displayed at a New York market.
Mark Lennihan
Fresh fish is displayed at a New York market.

The letters, sent August 15, argue that Greenpeace is misusing trademarked images and urge the group to stop using the video.

But in a statement to CNBC on Wednesday, Greenpeace says it will continue to use the cartoon characters despite the company’s complaints.

“In their clumsy and litigious attempt to hide their dirty little secret, the industry has illustrated the lengths to which they will go to keep their methods in the shadows,” said Greenpeace Senior Campaigner Casson Trenor. “We believe the American public has a right to know how their tuna is caught.”

Greenpeace is objecting to what it says is the huge amount of “bycatch,” or unintentional catch, created by the fishing methods currently used by the big companies. Greenpeace particularly objects to the use of fish-aggregating devices, which release large floating objects into the open ocean, creating an artificial island.

Those artificial islands, in turn, attract fish and can develop mini-ecosystems of their own. Greenpeace says the fishing companies kill far more than just tuna when they return for their catch.

In the video denouncing the practice, cartoon mascots of tuna brands lounge offset after filming wholesome commercials for the companies. But the tuna companies have a “dirty little secret,” the video suggests. An evil, shadowy figure representing big industry appears, ordering the mascots to film more commercials. And, at one point, one cartoon figure stabs another in the eye with a trident.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube.

The tuna industry doesn’t think it's funny.

“The tuna companies have expressed concern that their logos are being use as part of an overtly violent, tasteless video that's part of a fundraising campaign by Greenpeace,” said Gavin Gibbons of the industry group National Fisheries Institute. “Keep in mind Greenpeace is a $300 million dollar a year, multinational organization that needs to bring in about 700,000 a day just to keep the lights on, so regardless of the issue they are addressing they are raising money for themselves.”

In a letter to Greenpeace, attorney Ben T. Lila of the firm Mandour & Associates objected to the video on behalf of Bumble Bee Foods.

“Bumble Bee must object to the false, misleading, and deceptive statements included in your campaign,” he wrote. “The campaign in many material aspects is facially defamatory and constitutes trade libel and unfair competition in violation of California Law.”

Bumble Bee Foods is owned by Lion Capital.

Similarly, attorney Richard Pierce of the firm EckertSeamans wrote on behalf of StarKist, “It is not until well into the video before the parody is revealed. In other words, when a user is first exposed to the Charlie the Tuna mark, he or she does not simultaneously recognize the reference as a parody.”

StarKist is owned by Dongwon Industries.

An attorney for Tri-Union Seafoods, which markets Chicken of the Sea, sent a letter to Greenpeace on Wednesday, also objecting to the video.

The industry has a competing video of its own, posted to YouTubeto debunk the Greenpeace video.

In it, the industry says Greenpeace has raised millions of dollars around the world by “deceiving the public.”