Eco-Labels: According to a report commissioned by MSC co-founder WWF, MSC is still the best eco-label for wild caught fish


In my browsing I came across an editorial comment from Agri-trade that criticised the findings of a recent WWF report that saw MSC emerging as the best eco-labelling scheme according to WWF criteria.

According to the Agri-trade editorial comment:

It is not surprising that MSC emerges as the best eco-labelling scheme according to WWF criteria, inasmuch as WWF participated in the establishment of the MSC [more like co-founded] , and both organisations use the same criteria.

What is most important for ACP country [African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States] producers entering eco-labelling schemes, is to realise that they constantly evolve, with new criteria being introduced that have to be complied with. So to maintain an eco-label on their products – in order to keep new market opportunities open – ACP producers may constantly have to face new challenges, and incur new costs. It will therefore be important for them to carefully analyse how these challenges and costs can be met over time, before entering the certification process.”

Nuff said… My curiosity was triggered – I had to find WWF/Accenture report…

"Comparison of wild capture fisheries certification schemes’, commissioned by WWF from Accenture, September 2012"

“Comparison of wild capture fisheries certification schemes’, commissioned by WWF from Accenture, September 2012”

The Comparison of Wild Capture Fisheries Certification Schemes Report 

(to read the report click the cover picture above)

According to the Report :

Since the 2009 report, ISO Guide 654, which lists the requirements for organizations that certify products, processes and services, has been revised. Following the phase-in period it will be replaced by ISO Guide 170655. This new document includes an annex titled “Principles for product certification bodies and their certification activities”. This annex clearly lays out a core set of principles that may be used to guide the work of certification bodies (CBs). The addition of this annex is a milestone in better articulating the fundamentals of responsible certification.

The ISEAL Alliance has followed this trend by focusing on the scheme owner, in a process that can complement Annex A in ISO Guide 17065. Two key documents are being developed and express codes of practice for accountability and verification. While at the time of this report neither of these has been finalized, they are a clear indication of the direction in which evolving expectations for scheme owners is progressing.”

Simply the Report found:

“In 2009, WWF commissioned Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP) to carry out and report on an assessment of on-pack wild-capture seafood sustainability certification programs and seafood ecolabels. The purpose of the 2009 study was to benchmark a wide range of seafood sustainability certification and ecolabel programs. A total of 17 such programs were reviewed. This report presents the results of an updated and enhanced analysis of four certification schemes, including the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, the Friend of the Sea, Iceland Responsible Fisheries and the Marine Stewardship Council, all of which have undergone significant changes in their programs and requirements since the publication of the 2009 report.

As the certification and ecolabel programs evaluated in the 2009 report were themselves fairly new, the oldest of which was founded in 1997, it is reasonable to expect that these programs would continue to develop and respond to changes in the growing understanding of how wild fisheries stocks should be best managed, and to the transparency, credibility and accountability expectations held by stakeholders and users of schemes. There is also an increasing expectation that certification schemes—particularly those which have been in existence for a decade or more—are resulting in changes on the water.

This report uses the original criteria included in the 2009 report as well as two new sets of criteria not included in the original Accenture report. These new sets focus on the validation of the programs of the schemes themselves as well as recently developed international consensus-based guidelines for the management of wild fisheries. These new sets of criteria allow us to consider whether or not and to what degree the schemes are responding to changing expectations about how their programs should be managed, how wild fish stocks should be maintained, and the standards to which credible certification schemes should aspire.

The assessment criteria used in this study reflect the priorities of WWF. The priorities of other stakeholders, users or consumers may produce a different set of criteria. This report is not a final or absolute evaluation of the performance or credibility of these schemes. The purpose of this study is to contribute a detailed analysis against one specific set of criteria.

The owners and managers of certification schemes that focus on wild fisheries are under considerable pressure to develop their schemes, improve their documentation, clarify and interpret their requirements, and add new elements that reflect the rapidly changing consensus for both the management of certification schemes and the sustainability of wild fisheries.

This study identified a number of strengths and a number of weaknesses in the four schemes evaluated. The authors of this study note that all of the schemes evaluated have undergone significant changes in their practices, procedures and structures since 2009. The changes include both improvements to systems that existed in 2009 as well as the addition of new requirements and procedures that were in place at the time of the initial ADP analysis.

None of the standards analyzed in this report are in complete compliance with the criteria identified and defined by WWF as crucial to an ecolabel or certification program.

The Marine Stewardship Council is the only scheme that was found in this report to be considered compliant with the topic areas in which related criteria are grouped. It should be noted that MSC is not fully compliant with the new ecological criteria in this report.”

The WWF Response to [their] report:

WWF Denmark posted a brief Press release:

MSC named best label for fishMSC has once again been named as the best and most credible eco-label for wild caught fish. It concludes a new global study, Comparison of Wild Capture Fisheries Certification Schemes.”

[I do love the independent objective language.. I almost think that the report is completely independent].

It continued:

It [the study] concludes a new global study, Comparison of Wild Capture Fisheries Certification Schemes study, which has just been published by the International Conference of seafood in Hong Kong, has assessed the four most common labels for wild caught fish, namely the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute , Friend of the Sea, Iceland Responsible Fisheries and the MSC.

The study assigned each system points after status of fish stocks and the sustainability of fisheries environmental impact, and how the management of the system works. Also parameters such as transparency, systematic professionalism and Ecolabel degree of independence were scored. MSC scored 93 percent, while the other labels were all between 46 and 54 percent.”

The Report explained that unlike MSC, the other schemes lacked impartiality, transparency and information about their requirements for sustainable fisheries.

WWF Denmark Seafood Programme Manager Christoph Mathiesen commented:

MSC is the only available certification standard that meets WWF’s sustainability criteria. It is therefore positive that the MSC once again occupies top spot in terms of quality and credibility […] WWF helped to establish MSC scheme in 1997, and the work is still a important part of WWF’s work to preserve the natural environment and to secure the wild fish stocks.”

Again I love the language used here:

WWF helped to establish MSC scheme in 1997“… (We’ve established already that WWF Co-founded MSC with Unilever)


Fish caught in crates brought to port near Tumbes, on the North coast of the largest fishing nation. Peru. (Source: Edward Parker / WWF)

A press release from WWF International provides a little more context:

A new independent, global analysis of wild-capture seafood sustainability certification schemes, released today at the 10th International Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, found that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) remains most compliant with international sustainability criteria. These criteria not only measure the status of the stocks but also the environmental footprint of the fishery, the efficacy of the management system across all levels and the transparency, professionalism and independence of the certification process.”

Again please note the language of independence and objectivity:

[The] report includes an updated and enhanced analysis of four certification programmes to account for recent changes in the programmes and to further evaluate how they are being implemented. The updated criteria for this assessment include new validation and priority ecological indicators for WWF.

The report notes that none of the standards analysed are in complete compliance with WWF’s sustainability criteria. The MSC proved to be most compliant with a score of 93 per cent while the other programmes fell far short with scores of 46 per cent to 54 per cent, particularly on implementation procedure and transparency (publicly available information) within the standard setting process.

The press release quotes leader of WWF’s Global Smart Fishing Initiative Alfred Schumm:

Given the urgency of challenges facing the world’s fisheries and current confusion surrounding the meaning of different ecolabels, it is important to get a clear, independent assessment of their certifications to help consumers make informed choices… It’s one thing to look good on paper, it’s another to have a lasting, positive impact on marine ecosystems” […]

This report brings much needed rigor to the evaluation of how these programmes are being implemented in the real world. To date, the MSC still stands out as best in class to maintain healthy fish stocks and reduce ecosystem impacts of fisheries. Nevertheless, WWF will be pushing for improvements to ecosystem impacts.”

Alfred Schumm’s statement that this report “brings much needed rigor to the evaluation of how these programmes are being implemented in the real world” cannot reasonably be taken seriously can it?


What’s my Point

Personally I find it perfectly transparent and somewhat laughable that WWF is constantly trying to distance themselves from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Only a few years ago WWF sought public accolades for their strategic alignment with multinational food producer Unilever in their formation of a new organisation (MSC) that rewarded wild fisheries companies who met their standards in the sustainable harvest of wild fisheries…

To me the fact that this report ONLY assesses three selected certification programmes, in addition to MSC says it all. The other programmes assessed in the WWF/Accenture report are all direct competitors to the MSC (either established or up and coming):

  1. Friend of the Sea
  2. Iceland Responsible Fisheries
  3. Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

Friend’s of the Sea have been in direct competition… and the other two (Iceland Responsible Fisheries and Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute) were developed with Global Trust. Global Trust, the new seafood ‘certifier’ on the block… who by the end of 2011 had picked up some very significant clients (including of course the two here Iceland Responsible Fisheries and Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute) were the brunt of a full frontal eNGO campaign aimed at curtailing their significant market penetration.

Global Trust were even the brunt of a legal opinion/review by The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), albeit bland and toothless:

I am not the only one to see this report for what it is… self-serving PR from the WWF.

Others do too…

Paolo Bray (Director of Friend of the Sea) said in a comment below the Press release:

“[…] This Accenture study is ridiculous. If only Friend of the Sea had enough resources we would go legally against it. This is a competitive analysis made public. It is like if Coca Cola analyzed how much better it is than Pepsi and used that data as advertisement. Pathetic and sad.”

A comment by Tom S (below the press release reads):

What nonsense. Looked at through the lens of the WWF, of course the MSC will emerge on top – the WWF and the MSC have the same criteria. The other groups are not attempting to comply with the WWF criteria, but work toward sustainability…. Neither the WWF nor the MSC own sustainability – it is a generic unownable concept – and this should be seen for the propagandizing it is. This does not further sustainability, just the MSC and WWF.”

So why do WWF want to be free of their MSC shackles?

Easy… WWF want to be able to publicly criticise MSC’s findings… without looking ridiculous!


2 thoughts on “Eco-Labels: According to a report commissioned by MSC co-founder WWF, MSC is still the best eco-label for wild caught fish

  1. Pingback: Isn’t it Time We Support Truly Sustainable Fisheries? (Reblog from ‘The Good Catch’) | Green Fish Blue Fish

  2. Pingback: Alaska: According to US consumers Alaska is setting the gold-standard for sustainable seafood | Green Fish Blue Fish

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