Jennifer Jacquet, a clinical assistant professor at NY University. (Photo Credit: NY University/MSC)
Study challenges MSC's 'sustainable' seafood certification
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 04:10 (GMT + 9)
Researchers now believe that the certification of seafood as “sustainable” by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is both too lax and too misleading.
“When consumers want sustainable fish there are two options to meet the demand: fisheries can become more sustainable or the definition of sustainable can be watered down to be practically meaningless—with MSC seafood, the definition has been repeatedly watered down,” says Jennifer Jacquet, a clinical assistant professor in New York University’s (NYU) Environmental Studies Programme and one of 11 authors of the study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
The London-based MSC emerged in 1997 as a joint project between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever as a conservation tool that would provide ”the best environmental choice in seafood” to consumers, and help create demand for well-managed fisheries. But conservation groups are calling this claim into question.
Green groups note that the MSC’s certification process is paid for by the fisheries, with rates dependent on the size and complexity of the fishery.
MSC estimates that most certifications cost between USD 15,000 and USD 120,000. For the 170 fisheries the MSC has certified since its founding, fishery clients have spent between USD 2.3 and USD 18.7 million on certification.
To examine the MSC’s programme, the researchers examined 19 formal objections—raised mainly by environmental groups and totalling one-third, by weight, of all MSC-certified seafood—to certifications granted to Chilean sea bass, Antarctic krill and other fisheries. An independent adjudicator appointed by MSC hears objections and in all but one of these 19 cases, the certification was upheld.
Now, the researchers wanted to determine whether these fisheries actually met the MSC’s standards for certification: sustainability of the target fish stock, low impacts on the ecosystem and effective management.
The researchers found that fisheries representing 35 per cent of eco-labelled seafood did not really meet MSC standards.
For example, the Alaska pollock fishery received MSC certification even though, the researchers said, several court rulings had determined that the fishery was violating national law—indicating that it did not meet MSC’s “effective management” principle.
“The MSC’s narrow definition of sustainability is out of step with the general public perception of what that term means,” said Claire Christian, one of the study’s co-authors and a policy analyst at the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. “When the MSC labels a swordfish fishery that catches more sharks than swordfish ‘sustainable,’ it’s time to re-evaluate its standards.”
In response, regarding the 19 formal objections, MSC scientists Nicolas Gutierrez and David Agnew said the MSC is not necessarily looking to take labels away from fisheries but, instead, on several occasions, the accused fisheries had to make improvements to keep the sustainable fishery certification, Nature reports.
They also claimed that several authors of the new paper had a conflict of interest, since some of them had filed about one-third of the 19 objections, The Inquisitr reports.
By Natalia Real