The World is Their Pearl Oyster

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Australian South Sea Pearling Industry is innovative, re-emergent and is embracing the rarity of Australian South Sea Pearls.

Over the weekend (12 November 2016) the Wall Street Journal ran the story on its website For Australia’s Pearl Farmers, the Wild Is Their Oyster.

The story (written by WSJ journalist Vera Sprothen) that charters the journey of the pearling industry over the past few years, and with a point of view that is both refreshing and rare, celebrates quality and rarity in favour of quantity and mass production:

wsj-pearls

The WSJ website also features a video that supplements the story above (click here to view it):

The video is high quality and augmented with footage from the recent National Geographic/Paspaley production “The Secret Life of Pearls.” Again it refreshingly provides some welcomed clarity with respect to an industry that isn’t well know. What is more it provides some astonishing truths about the industry in a global context:

Australia is the last place in the world where pearls are cultured in wild oysters. They are handpicked from the ocean floor by divers…”

In the last few years china has taken over the global market with cheap mass produced freshwater pearls. A single mussel, often cultivated in flooded rice paddies, can yield as many as 50 pearls, whereas a[n Australian] south sea oyster grows just one.”

Experts say that the quality of cheap pearls is proving every year. However, unlike [Australian] south sea pearls, the Chinese ones are irregularly shaped and bleached with chemicals to give them a white gloss.”

[I note that with respect to pearl quality and rarity, one chinese pearl jewellery producer points out in the video when referring to a pearl strand: “This is a big size south sea pearl from Australia. This is the perfect pearl. In every piece the colours match, the surface is very clean and the size is very big.

The video notes a sea-change in approaches by the Australian pearling industry.  The industry is innovating and branching out into the ability for consumers to feel the pearling experience, to bring the consumer closer even insofar as they can see the “grunt behind the glamour.”  The Australian Industry is also embracing their demonstrable sustainability, their harvest of wild oysters by hand, their gentle touch and minimal interaction with the environment and the harmony that is created between the pearl producer and the untamed waters of the Kimberley which is perfectly encapsulated in an Australian South Sea Pearl.

Personally I enjoyed the story. I look forward to the Australian South Sea Pearling Industry to continue to make their global mark.

“All the Glistens is not Gold”: In a World first Australian South Sea Pearls to undergo Assessment against the MSC Standard

 I note that they [the Australian Pearling Industry] are due for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – which would certainly make Australian South Sea Pearls the ethical and responsible environmental choice … and make rare Australian pearls rarer still.

 

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Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council

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I just read in the Guardian what I honestly thought might have occurred 4 months ago….

Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certified programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council.”

Is it true? Have Walmart done an about turn on something they vilified just a year ago? Has Walmart just made an about face accepting the sustainability certification based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (COCRF)? I wasn’t sure I was reading correctly until my colleague sent me an email that with the dismissively cool subject title “Walmart accepts RFM standard” and an attached PDF of an article from Intrafish “Walmart: ASMI-backed program meets sourcing guidelines.” But the ‘coolness’ and lack of comment spoke volumes… We both have been following the intrigue and we both know the symbolism embedded in Walmart’s announcement.

So I don’t have to pinch myself… its true… here is some further evidence of its veracity:

On Thursday (23 January 2014) almost 4 months after acknowledging the kinks in its sustainable seafood sourcing policy at a US Senate hearing, Walmart’s Vice President of meat and seafood, David Baskin, announced that Walmart (the world’s largest retailer) had decided to expand its sustainable seafood policy (SSP) to include certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council. Prior to the revision of the SSP the the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) backed Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM)  certification programme was problematic for Walmart, who announced in 2013 that it would have to stop stocking Alaska seafood if it didn’t meet the MSC sustainable fisheries standard.

The progress towards Walmart’s sustainable seafood sourcing policy has been a slow one, with strong pressure being exerted by eNGOs who have undertaken to walk away from Walmart’s sustainability programme [NGOs push walmart to defy congress]. On the other hand, it is arguable that this call to defy congress, is nothing more than final push by the eNGOs who could see the recognition of the RFM by Walmart as inevitable after the United States General Services Administration (GSA) wrote MSC out of their sustainable sourcing policy in September 2013.

In an earlier post I quoted from a letter from GSA’s David Blue to US Senator Murkowski:

GSA’s believes that American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices.  GSA and HHS designed the Guidelines to make healthy choices more accessible and appealing.  We intended the Guideline’s citation of third-party certification organizations to serve as helpful examples for potential bidders, not as eliminating factors.  Our goal was to broaden choices, not to restrict options.”

In my mind this revision by GSA was the first indication that MSC’s prominent position as the principal market access gatekeeper was being eroded. The revision of the Walmart SSP goes further; by recognising the RFM programme as an acceptable third-party sustainable certification standard, it paves the way for viable market access alternatives to MSC.  In this way the revision of the SSP by Walmart has the potential to have far reaching effects for the sustainable certification of seafood worldwide. The initial effect of this announcement is that Walmart can continue to stock Alaska seafood in accordance with its SSP.

The revised policy provides for the inclusion of a management programme that accords with the Principles of Credible Sustainability Programs developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). It must be noted that acceptance by the TSC may be subject to a third party review. So acceptance is not assured. However, initially the Walmart SSP  stipulated that  all fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood suppliers to source from fisheries who are:

What are the short-term and long term effects?

Alaskan Airline's Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 - Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain's side window.

Alaskan Airline’s Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 – Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain’s side window. Source: http://www.airlinereporter.com

According to ktuu.com who quoted ASMI Communications Director, Tyson Fick:

The decision comes as vindication of Alaska’s seafood sustainability process. This isn’t just about salmon, it’s about RFM certified seafood like Pollock, cod, halibut, crab, and more.”

And Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich (chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard):

This is why I’m pleased that they have finally come full circle with a full reversal of their sustainability policies … to purchase Alaska seafood

So first hats off to Walmart!!!

Just like the ASMI they are trail blazing! And trail blazers are fabulous aren’t they?

Walmart deserve recognition as trail blazers because, not only did they soak up to the pressure; they had faith in seafood professionals who implement progress before PR, who put in the work to make sure their harvest is responsible and that their resource endurable. But mostly they deserve the trail blazer tag because of their acceptance of the RFM as a legitimate and acceptable seafood certification programme, even though the RFM is a sustainability programme that is outside environmental NGO sphere of influence. This is a move that cannot be under-estimated given that for the past decade environmental NGOs like WWF, have been (at least in fact) the self-imposed “what is sustainable and what is not sustainable” gate keepers. This position as market access gatekeepers has been a lucrative cashcow for a number of eNGOs who have built ticket clipping consultancy businesses around demonstrating sustainable sourcing. I am happy to see this position being abraded… I for one do not equate eNGOs with commercial consultancy.

In my opinion:

The acceptance of the RFM by Walmart is a step into the future… where primary producers will demonstrate the responsibility, the endurability and yes, the sustainability of their harvested resource, and where in consideration of the demonstration retailers will stock it and sell it to their customers…

This recognition of the Alaskan Responsible Fisheries (RFM) certification programme by Walmart is courageous, it will no doubt attract some flack from the media and eNGOs (who are no doubt very aware of the symbolism of the RFM recognition). But us netizens… as shoppers of sustainable seafood, as quid pro quo for Walmart’s bravado, should blaze a trail with our dollars and embrace Walmart’s purchasing policy.

Sadly I am unable to purchase seafood in Walmart today… But I am not based in the USA nor in a country with a Walmart. So please go give Walmart a pecuniary high five on my behalf… and have some salmon for dinner. ^^

Alaska: According to US consumers Alaska is setting the gold-standard for sustainable seafood

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I just read in Seafood News something I never thought I’d see a year or so ago – especially after the criticism of Global Trust and their application of fisheries standard based on U.N. FAO standards (Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) programme), which was embraced by ASMI as a viable alternative to MSC certification see report by the Environmental Law Institute that described the RFM program as industry developed and controlled) –According to Laine Welch on Alaska Fish Radio with Laine Welch [10 January, 2014 ] Alaska is setting the “gold-standard for sustainable seafood.”

A Salmon Fishing Bear, Alaska.  Photo Source: oregonsunshine.wordpress.com (Common Myths about Alaska, 29 Oct 2008)

A Salmon Fishing Bear, Alaska.
Photo Source: oregonsunshine.wordpress.com (Common Myths about Alaska, 29 Oct 2008)

According to Laine Welch:

Wal-Mart reps are in Juneau this week to learn more about Alaska’s salmon management, to make sure it’s up to snuff with the company’s sustainability criteria. Alaska opted out of the high priced Marine Stewardship Council eco-label which Wal-Mart uses as its purchasing standard. Alaska instead adopted the UN’s Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program for sustainability certification.

Meanwhile, a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 U.S. seafood consumers revealed strong support for Alaska as the gold-standard of healthy, sustainable seafood. In a survey last month by the Washington, DC-based Prime Group, 66 percent rated the quality of Alaska seafood as very high, and a whopping 97 percent viewed it as more or as sustainable than other seafood. Alaska caught seafood is preferred to Russian caught by 87 percent to one. Forty percent of those surveyed said they prefer certification based on UN standards versus only 19 percent based on standards set by a ‘private, nonprofit organization.’ Thirty one percent had no preference. When asked about characteristics that might justify a 10% price premium, caught in the wild got a 46 percent rating, certified sustainable was at 40 percent and Alaska-caught garnered 36 percent of the responses. And 53% disapproved of the MSC policy of approving fisheries that are on a path to sustainability.

The nationwide poll was commissioned by “Alaska Salmon Now” – a grassroots group of Alaska fishing families and US consumers pressuring Wal-Mart to fully embrace Alaska salmon. Wal-Mart appears poised to do so.”

(See the full survey at www.alaskafishradio.com)

Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

Related articles

USA declares “We do not need third-party sustainability certification”

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I just read in an article by Michael Ramsingh in Seafood News (GSA agrees with Murkowski that US fisheries do not need third-party sustainability certification)… and I find myself nodding in agreement.

Third party certification has quickly become a mockery. It is no longer Independent. It is no longer objective. The whole process has been hijacked by eNGOs who have built revenue streams around these third party certification frameworks. ENGOs like WWF are busy pushing  sustainability standards upward and upward, raising the bar from at the production end, and then at the market access end forming little consultancies that perform ‘lite’ assessments for customers who need help with ‘sustainable’ purchasing…

This mockery of what was once a robust indepedent validation process has resulted in disenchantment from producers and suppliers, and confusion from consumers… This ticket clipping by eNGOs is not what the market wants, it is no longer what customers need!  And now one by one the certification frameworks are being deconstructed, and the corrosion of their once shiny allure is being exposed.

The article featured a letter from Darren J. Blue the Assistant Commissioner of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski confirming that the GSA (and indeed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)) had revised their sustainable sourcing policy (The GSA’s revised sustainable sourcing policy can be read here) and had removed third-party seafood sustainability references in its Concession Sustainability Guidelines (CSG) saying US managed fisheries do not require third-party sustainability certification.

The complete letter reads (the original can be read here):

November 22, 2013

The Honorable Lisa Murkowski
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Murkowski:

Thank you for your letter dated July 12, 2013, raising concerns about the Health and Sustainable Good Guidelines (Guidelines) developed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  As I testified before the U.S. Senate Committee Commerce, Science, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, on September 24, 2013, I agree with the concerns outlines in your letter.

GSA’s believes that American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices.  GSA and HHS designed the Guidelines to make healthy choices more accessible and appealing.  We intended the Guideline’s citation of third-party certification organizations to serve as helpful examples for potential bidders, not as eliminating factors.  Our goal was to broaden choices, not to restrict options.

As soon as GSA became aware of your concerns, we worked with HHS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to revise the Guidelines.  The new Guidelines (copy enclosed) continue to reflect the best of Federal fisheries management policy and practices, but they omit any reference to third-party certification systems.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Lisa Austin, Associate Administrator, Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, at (202) 501-0563.
Sincerely,

Darren J. Blue
Assistant Commissioner

The bold text is for effect, and done by me…

Logo of the United States General Services Adm...

Logo of the United States General Services Administration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the sentence “Our goal was to broaden choices, not to restrict options...” It says it all really doesn’t it about how restrictive and narrow the definition of ‘sustainability’ is today.

This above letter is a response to months of backlash after the GSA came a under fire from Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski and the Alaska salmon industry after guidelines were adopted by the National Park Service to require seafood options that were “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list; certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council or identified by an equivalent program that has been approved by the NPS.

In September, the GSA’s Assistant Commissioner Darren Blue testified in front of a federal Senate Committee that the GSA would change the language surrounding the use of MSC and other third-party certification bodies. (See Article: Murkowski hails GSA reversal on third-party seafood sustainability certification requirements)

Dutch gill net fishery quits MSC: Is this the first of many?

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In this blog I have referred to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) on a number of occasions… either lauding the certification of certain fisheries, or defending the need or robusticity of the MSC programme. However recently GFBF has been acknowledging the mobility of not only the fisheries standard (and therefore the bar) but also the MSC benchmarks; noting that a recent round of proposed revisions has MSC stipulating thresholds and advocating benchmarks, where they once acknowledged them and expected compliance.

Cooperative Fisheries Organisation from the Netherlands

Cooperative Fisheries Organisation from the Netherlands

According to Seafood Source the Dutch gill net fishermen of the Cooperative Fisheries Organization (CVO) have decided not to continue with their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate for sole. CVO has advised that as of 24 November 2013, there will be no more landings of sole under their 2009 MSC certificate.

According to the Seafood source article CVO have opted not to renew their certificate for primarily financial reasons:

After fishing under the certificate for four years, the group said the MSC has brought limited benefits for the gill net fishermen.

According to CVO:

“Several attempts to balance the financial burden with the revenues over the past years, did not yield enough to further maintain the certificate. Although the MSC certificate has underlined the sustainable nature of the gill net fishery and has brought them public and independent recognition, sales of MSC sole have no delivered the expected price uplift or access to specific markets.

This combined with the high financial burden for maintenance and extension of the certificate, has made continuation of the MSC certificate for this small-scale fishery an unrealistic goal.”

CVO has indicated on the record that they believe in the programme and would rejoin it, should MSC implements changes in the long-term that bring about “reduction in certification costs for small-scale fisheries

This is a significant move. As well as noting the failure of MSC as a value proposition for small scale fisheries like the Dutch sole fishery, I note CVO’s assertion that the decision to renew their MSC certificate does not have any bearing on the sustainability of the sole fishery. The  implication of this is that in the context of sustainability, an MSC certificate has no bearing at all on whether or not the CVO sole fishery is sustainable, rather an MSC certificate provides validation of any sustainability assertions.

It is important for us to remember that the MSC is not the arbiter on what seafood products are and are not sustainable, their fisheries standard, serves only as a collection of benchmarks against which a fishery can demonstrate that they are. We tend to forget that.

MSC responds to ASMI with a 5 page epistle that lashes out at critics, for what they see as “negative and inaccurate statements”

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According to SeafoodSource.com MSC has fired a shot back. In a piece  (MSC fights back against ASMI) published last week (Friday, 27 September 2013) SeafoodSource wrote that Kerry Coughlin, regional director for the Americas for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), is speaking out in a lengthy 5 page statement, lashing out at critics, including  the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, U.S. senators from Alaska, and even the industry media for what she says are “negative and inaccurate statements”  about the MSC.

SeafoodSource.com writes:

The MSC has been at odds with ASMI for years, but the statement comes on the heels of a 24 September hearing by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard that examined the need for third-party certification programs like the MSC’s.

In the statement, described as an “open letter and fact sheet,” Kerry Coughlin, regional director for the Americas for the MSC, described the hearing as a “particularly egregious example of biased and inaccurate discussion,” and blasted the committee’s chair, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for keeping the MSC out of the hearing.

“With due respect to Chairman Begich, exclusion from the hearing of the MSC, the world’s leading seafood sustainability certification program and a main subject of the hearing, suggests the purpose of the hearing was not to gather informative testimony on the subject but to posit a particular position based on misinformation,” Coughlin wrote.

Coughlin also challenged Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also made headlines this week in her criticism of the involvement of third-party certification programs in government activities. On 24 September, Murkowski praised a decision by the U.S. General Services Administration to confirm it will not let third-party groups such as NGOs influence its definition of sustainable seafood. The senator has also proposed legislation that would further prohibit federal agencies from using third-party certification programs.

Coughlin blasted Murkowski’s assertions that the MSC is “meddling” in fisheries management or is too expensive for fisheries to afford applying for certification, and noted that “the Governor and U.S. Senators from Alaska have never contacted the MSC to obtain information from us on our program.”

Coughlin also responded to Murkowski’s assertion that the MSC is a foreign entity forcing its will upon a domestic industry, saying, “MSC isn’t ‘foreign,’ Senator Murkowski; it’s global. And Alaska and its thriving fishing economy and jobs are fully part of and dependent on that global industry.”

Coughlin also criticized the Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program. Based on U.N. FAO standards, the program has been touted by ASMI as a viable alternative to MSC certification, but Coughlin accused ASMI of spending more than USD 7 million “of industry and taxpayer money” on developing and promoting the program. She also cited a report by the Environmental Law Institute that described the RFM program as “industry developed and controlled.”

Coughlin insisted the MSC wants to work with Alaska to showcase its sustainability.

This isn’t about Alaska feeling it doesn’t need to prove its sustainability to anyone as Senator Murkowski has suggested,” she wrote. “Instead Alaska and the U. S. have an opportunity to continue to be leaders among world fisheries by demonstrating we as a nation meet the world’s leading standard for sustainability and would expect other fisheries worldwide to do the same.”

I find it interesting that MSC chides ASMI, slaps them on the hands and says  “MSC isn’t ‘foreign… it’s global. And Alaska and its thriving fishing economy and jobs are fully part of and dependent on that global industry.” Yes Kerry Coughlin the Seafood Industry is a global industry, but MSC is not! MSC is an “independent international non-profit organisation.

It is true, MSC has a global reach, as far as it is available globally. In this way MSC is like Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Hyundai cars and Bonita bananas are also global. Yet at the same time all of these products are foreign. They don’t come from Alaska or indeed the USA. They are globally available Italian, Korean & Ecuadorian products. Having a product with global reach does not make the same global. In this way, MSC is a European product (a 3rd party certification product that fisheries use to illustrate the status of their fishery against sustainability benchmarks that is globally available. This is an important distinction to make.

There is no doubt that the fisheries certification market is undergoing a period of flux… One where the current market leader (MSC) is for the first time in a long while, receiving some significant scrutiny, especially with respect to some of the more equitable and inequitable effects of the fisheries standard.

Currently, MSC is very much still the market leader… light years ahead of its competition. But I would say that this is the is not just a comfort, it is a problem. On their own, without credible competition they are a tall poppy, the only game in town andas a consequence a potential repository of criticism. I believe that the arrival of some head to head competition is a good thing. Good for both MSC, and for the seafood market in general.

What we have seen is that the ‘certified sustainable’ market is increasingly a cluttered one, and  there are a good many organisations dropping their gloves and rolling up their sleeves! If ASMI has done anything, they shown just how vulnerable MSC really is to some robust competition and I see more coming on the horizon.  And when it arrives, it will be decisive and quick.

That said it is important to keep in mind that after the initial dust settles, and the outlines of seafood certification options slowly crystallise and come into view, seafood producers and customers alike will be all the more enriched with market innovations and sustainable indications. This can only be good.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Banner. Source MSC

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Banner. Source MSC

Related Articles

Question: Are Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (eNGOs) Greenmailing the Seafood Industry?

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The question and following article was posted by Mark Soboil on the Marine Economic Development (MED) website:

When trying to wrap ones head around the term sustainability it becomes apparent that there is need for clear and specific sustainability criteria, including the evidence required to show that they are met, and the flexibility needed to encompass all the various circumstances and approaches in fishery management that can deliver responsible and sustainable utilization.

Since it is not sufficient for industry, government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to simply state that a fishery is sustainable, eco-labeling schemes have been created to help certify and promote labels of products from well-managed fisheries. At first glance this seems to be the solution to managing the fluctuating criteria for sustainability, but the reality is that these schemes still do not solve the problems facing sustainability compliance. The main concern with many schemes is that because they focus on issues related to the sustainable use of fisheries resources, without substantive requirements around what is sustainable, different standards of proof can be accepted.

This in turn leads to arbitrary certification processes as a result of misleading information that has been used to present an image of sustainability, often called, greenwashing. The other potentially more worrying result is greenmailing, where schemes basically blackmail fisheries into buying into their eco-labeling schemes. This is achieved by the threat of being unable to enter certain markets without their eco-label and once the fishery has paid to enter the scheme, they are threatened with bad press that could mean the end of a company for non-compliance, even when the environmental standards are economically prohibitive.

But, if the eco-labels have the best interests of the environment in mind, is a little pressure on fisheries to comply really such a bad thing? Perhaps not if the results and standards were consistent, but many self-governing schemes are making their own rules, a dangerous recipe when the seafood economy is at stake.”

I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Mark Soboil here.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has just overhauled the MSC standard again. Many of these new changes are issue based and have the effect of the shifting the bar, and moving the goal posts.

See the MSC Improvements Page for the extent of the changes to the MSC Fisheries Certification Requirements.

MSC ecolabel

MSC ecolabel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)