The Importance of ‘Certified Sustainable Eco-Labels’ in the Market

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The Washington Post published an article by Juliet Eilperin last year that pitched the market as a place of complete confusion. Not only with the sheer number of schemes infiltrating the market, but the accompanying polemic associated with each of these schemes. Yet it is too often overlooked that detractors of a scheme like MSC have a scheme of their own they’d like to see in its place.

Forest and Bird Society of New Zealand actively campaigned against and objected to the MSC certification of New Zealand hoki in 2007, claiming that the hoki fishery was not sustainable, asserting that to certify it as such was misleading customers. Yet they were not averse to having it featured in the ‘red’ part of their ‘best fish guide’. In 2013 notwithstanding hoki’s record third MSC certification and a biomass estimate that is well within the management range and above BMSY, hoki was still considered to be unsustainable by Forest and Bird, and continues to be a “red” do not eat fish in the F&B fish guide.

I find myself wondering who really is misleading customers here?

Juliet Eilperin states the positions at both poles:

“Many retailers tout the environmental credentials of their seafood, but a growing number of scientists have begun to question whether these certification systems deliver on their promises. The labels give customers a false impression that purchasing certain products helps the ocean more than it really does, some researchers say.

Backers respond that they are helping transform many of the globe’s wild-caught fisheries, giving them a financial incentive to include environmental safeguards, while giving consumers a sense of what they can eat with a clear conscience.”

A worker cuts a steak from a piece of tuna at a fish market. Seafood counters used to be simpler places, where a fish was labeled with its name and price. Nowadays, it carries more information than a used-car listing. Where did it swim? Was it farm-raised? Was it ever frozen? How much harm was done to the ocean by fishing it? (Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

A worker cuts a steak from a piece of tuna at a fish market. Seafood counters used to be simpler places, where a fish was labeled with its name and price. Nowadays, it carries more information than a used-car listing. Where did it swim? Was it farm-raised? Was it ever frozen? How much harm was done to the ocean by fishing it? (Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

She quotes Blue Ocean Institute President Carl Safina, who rather sagely points out that:

A decade ago, eating a piece of fish was akin to eating a piece of bread. You just picked it up and ate it. It wasn’t subject to any discussion or inquiry. Now it’s a broad discussion about where it came from, about whether it’s sustainable. This is enormous progress compared to the change we’ve made to any other form of food production in the same amount of time.”

It all may seem ridiculous… A case of fleas fighting over the ownsership of the dog. But the reality is that on earth today there are over 7 billion people. Developing countries with huge populations like China (1.3 billion), India (1.1 billion), USA (310 million), Indonesia (230 Million) and Brazil (193 million). Many of these countries has a developping middle class who can afford and want to buy healthy seafood.

We simply cannot afford to shop for wild caught fish they way we used to shop for it. There are too many of us now… We have to manage our fish stocks, and do so demonstrably. The best way to demonstrate sustainable management is at the point where a fish meets the consumer… at the market. Certified sustainable labels like MSC do this.

The Washington Post article concludes:

The most stringent and commonly used certification is that of the Marine Stewardship Council, which has certified 148 wild-caught fisheries, or between 6 and 7 percent of the global supply. It uses independent reviewers to determine whether a fishery earns an MSC-certified label and can be classified as sustainable — meaning that the fish is relatively abundant, the fishery is well managed, and catching it does not harm other species or ocean habitats.

For there reasons (at the very least) customers should be confident when they are buying a fish that is MSC certified.

I must express an observation of my own here:

In addition to demonstrating compliance with 3 core principles of sustainability, the positioning in the market that MSC certification provides has lead to other fabulous things… One of which is an incentive for fisheries to edge closer and closer to the MSC benchmark… This way they too can eventually enjoy the improved market position MSC certification brings…

Essentially by just being there as a benchmark, MSC is inspiring improved fisheries management.

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One thought on “The Importance of ‘Certified Sustainable Eco-Labels’ in the Market

  1. Pingback: Dutch gill net fishery quits MSC: Is this the first of many? | Green Fish Blue Fish

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