More and more fisheries intend to obtain MSC certification. (Photo: MSC/FIS)
MSC-certified fish stocks less likely to be harmfully exploited
Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 23:40 (GMT + 9)
A new study analyses the performance of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fish stocks for the first time. The study found that MSC-certified seafood is three to five times less likely to be subject to harmful fishing than uncertified seafood.
The MSC ecolabel currently appears on over 15,000 products worldwide. Scientists compared status and abundance trends of 45 certified stocks with those of 179 uncertified stocks, and determined that 74 per cent of certified fisheries were above biomass levels that would produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY), compared with only 44 per cent of uncertified fisheries.
On average, the biomass of certified stocks rose by 46 per cent over the past decade, whereas uncertified fisheries increased by just 9 per cent.
Before becoming certified by MSC, fisheries must undergo a confidential pre-assessment process. After comparing certified fisheries with those that declined to pursue full certification after pre-assessment, certified stocks were found to have much lower mean exploitation rates (67 per cent of the rate producing MSY vs. 92 per cent for those declining to pursue certification), allowing for more sustainable harvesting and often biomass rebuilding.
MSC-certification thus accurately identifies healthy fish stocks and conveys reliable information on stock status to consumers, the study concluded.
Most certified fisheries come from developed countries that benefit from sophisticated fisheries management; researchers found that these fisheries were already well-managed by their agencies before certification.
“We recognise that stock status and harvesting levels are not the only measures of a fishery’s sustainability,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, manager of the MSC monitoring and evaluation programme and lead author. “However, the ability of a fishery to identify and respond to changes in stock status is critical to maintaining the resource at renewable levels. MSC certification requires fisheries to amend their harvesting strategies to rebuild stocks where necessary, and the effectiveness of such management actions are closely monitored through annual audits.”
In light of the increase in the number of fisheries seeking MSC certification since 2009, future analyses will be able to examine the effect of MSC certification on initially less well-managed fisheries, particularly small-scale and data-limited fisheries, which are vital to developing countries in terms of employment, national food security and foreign exchange earnings.
“As more agencies attempt to implement ecosystem-based management, certified fisheries will need to demonstrate enhanced performance in these other areas to meet evolving definitions of sustainability and maintain the integrity of the MSC eco-label. A key part of MSC certification is the chain of custody to ensure that seafood labelled as MSC-certified indeed comes from the certified fishery and is not mislabelled catch from uncertified fisheries,” the study reads.
Regardless, the researchers wrote, this study demonstrates that certification and eco-labelling can effectively distinguish healthy stocks and fisheries that are achieving internationally accepted management targets. This constitutes a critical first step in helping consumers effectively influence change in fishing practices to ensure future ocean health and seafood output.
By Natalia Real