The World is Their Pearl Oyster


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:


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.



McDonald’s prefers that the Alaska At-sea Processors Association stay with MSC Certification?


Here is something of interest from Intrafish (21 Feb 2014):

Alaska Pollock to stay with MSC – citing requests from customers as the motivation for  pollock suppliers to stay with MSC

This is interesting.  I would have thought that with the  growing market acceptance for the Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) scheme, Alaska fisheries like  pollock would eventually move towards RFM certification. But it seems that this is not the case. The article suggests that the adherence to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Fisheries Standard is a result of “requests from customers“.

But lets dig a little more deeply into this  “requests from customers” statement.

Just over a year ago in a blog post (A Fairy Story: McDonald’s, Marine Stewardship Council, Filet O’Fish and the Certification of New Zealand hoki) I blogged the relationship between MSC, McDonald’s and Alaska Pollock! I quoted David Jolly’s New York Times ‘green’ blog  that asserted McDonald’s partnership with MSC:

“The most tangible effect of the sustainability imprimatur is that, beginning next month, Filet-O-Fish wrappers sold in the burger giant’s 14,000 American restaurants will display the Marine Stewardship Council label. McDonald’s also announced on Thursday that it would roll out a new promotional menu item in February called Fish McBites — think chicken nuggets, only made from pollock — that would also carry the council’s label.”       …

“The world’s biggest fast-food company announced last week that its sourcing of fish for the United States market, which is entirely wild-caught Alaska pollock, had been certified by the council, perhaps the best-known organization promoting sustainable fishing around the world.”     …

“McDonald’s did not have to do much to comply with the council’s requirements.  Susan Forsell, McDonald’s vice president for sustainability, said that under the company’s own in-house sustainable fisheries program, which began 10 years ago, 100 percent of McDonald’s fish is already purchased from fisheries that have received stewardship council certification. In Europe, where McDonald’s products rely on both the Alaskan pollock and sustainable European fisheries, the council’s logo already appears on the company’s packaging.”

Hoki & McDonalds

Filet-o-fish illustration and caption that featured in the story by Micheal Field. US stops using hoki in restaurant meals. Southland Times. 29 Jan 2013

If we join the dots – we can see that the Alaska At-sea Processors Association, by sticking with MSC, are accommodating their customer’s sourcing policy. Since that customer is McDonald’s (who not only use a “shangload” of pollock in their Filet o’Fish  but also a year ago announced a partnership with MSC) I am sure APA don’t mind too much.


Below is the text of the Intrafish article (Alaska pollock producers sticking with the MSC) [Friday 21 Feb, 2014]

Requests from customers motivates pollock suppliers to stay with MSC

“The At-sea Processors Association (APA), the client for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BS/AI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) pollock certifications, said Friday it will move forward with the second reassessment of the fisheries under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) program.

The BS/AI Alaska pollock fishery is currently certified through December 2015 and the GOA pollock fishery through September 2015.

In September, the MSC certified the Russian Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery, creating a competitive source of MSC pollock.

APA has accepted a proposal from MRAG Americas to conduct the fisheries’ reassessments and will continue to extend the license to all Alaska pollock producers on a cost-sharing basis.

 APA Executive Director Stephanie Madsen cited requests from customers as the primary reason for continuing with the certification.

“The Alaska pollock fisheries first became certified in 2005, but they have been sustainably managed for over 35 years. Sustainability certifications are an independent validation of that fact,” she said. She added that some Alaska pollock customers have developed marketing programs based on the MSC eco-label and asked that APA maintain the certification.

Madsen also gave a shout out to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Insititute’s certification program, considered a competitor to the MSC certification, at least in Alaska.

“The Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fisheries are also certified under the Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management Program (RFM), which is based on the FAO’s international guidelines for sustainability and ecolabels,” he said. “We support both programs to allow for customer choice.”

The Alaska pollock fisheries recently passed its second annual audit under the RFM program and nearly all Alaska pollock producers are certified for RFM chain of custody.”

Related articles

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


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”


According to 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. 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

Wal-Mart purchasing policy is anti-American? Atuna says “MSC Tuna’s Future In the US Could Rest On Wal-Mart’s Alaskan Salmon Decision”

According to Atuna yesterday (25 September 2013) the future of MSC certified tuna and other wild seafood in the American market could very well rest on the purchasing decision Wal-Mart makes with respect to Alaskan Salmon.
Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

This article took me by surprise since I just a few months Walmart is on the record that it is only interested in sourcing MSC certified Wild Salmon. I refer to the Intrafish article of 28 June 2013 (Walmart tells suppliers only MSC-certified wild salmon is OK) in which the contents of a letter from Walmart Senior seafood buyer Catherine Johnson to the Alaskan wild salmon suppliers indicate unequivocally ruling out Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification as not conforming with its sustainable seafood purchasing policy for Alaskan Wild Salmon. Johnson reminded the Alaskan wild salmon suppliers that to conform with the purchasing policy it must be certified sustainable according to the:

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) [Fisheries] Standard or, if not certified, actively working towards certification. This latter scenario includes fisheries in public fishery improvement projects (FIPs)… [N]o other standards will be accepted as equivalent until such time as we announce our decision.”

The letter continued:

Sources of MSC certified fisheries are currently available from Alska, British Columbia, and Russia. If you are not already sourcing from an MSC certified fishery, please explore these options. Since these areas also have fisheries that are not MSC certified, it is critical you buy from companies of producers with MSC Chain of Custody [certification].”

According to intrafish this letter pretty much precludes the use of ASMI’s RFM programme as an equivalent to MSC in the Market, notwithstanding the endorsement of the RFM programme by Alaskan wild salmon producers who abandoned the MSC Fisheries Standard in 2012. Even though the Alskan Salmon Industry dropped MSC in favour of the the ASMI RFM alternative program (developed by Global Trust) , the Alaskan salmon industry hoped Wal-Mart would recognize other certifications.

Alaskan Airline’s Wild Alaska Salmon 737 – Note the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain’s side window, and the words “IN partnership with…” Make no mistake their is considerable clout behind this Alaskan wild salmon drive

Alaskan Senator, Mark Begich has been critical of Wal-Mart over certification and vociferous about MSC’s increasing cost for logo fees and its fisheries standard that is beset with inconsistencies.

According to Begich, all US fisheries should be recognised as sustainable without the need of a third-party certification. In fact, Begich has advocated the establishment of US sustainability standard, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can verify the sustainability of US seafood. President of the National Fisheries Institute, John Connelly seconds this:

Congress should require NOAA to develop an integrated communications strategy that describes in lay terms how the government manages our nation’s fisheries resources.”

Changes to General Services Administration Seafood purchasing policy

This week purchasing policy changes elsewhere have not only placed the spotlight on Wal-Mart’s purchasing policy, they have resulted in an inference that the policy is un-American. According to Atuna:

“This week saw the US General Services Administration update its guidelines and decide to remove the need of a third-party certification for purchasing food under government contracts. The previous recommendation in the guidelines was that any seafood purchased by the US market should always have the MSC certification. The change will allow for the US to purchase seafood for the feds, like the Department of Defense and National Parks without an eco-label to state that the fish was caught and processed sustainably. This could have a substantial impact on the future of MSC certified tuna and other wild seafood in the American market.

The dropping the its guidelines surrounding the purchase of MSC seafood by the General Services Administration, poses the question of the nation’s largest retailer whether it will go back on its commitment and allow the purchase of Alaskan salmon not certified by MSC.

US Senator, Lisa Murdowski, representing Alaska stressed that the state will continue with efforts to eradicate the “pay to play” system that currently exists. A Wal-Mart senior director of sustainability said that the company will be reviewing its policy and will come to a quick decision.

If this giant global retailer announces plans to drop its commitment to the MSC certification and continue to sell Alaskan salmon, this could possibly have major repercussions for MSC’s image in the US, and the seafood products that carry its logo.

Atuna argues that an about turn by Wal-Mart could also affect the future development of MSC tuna, fresh, frozen or canned in the US market. The country’s two albacore tuna fisheries are both MSC certified, and the US Big three tuna brands had recently committed, through the ISSF, to switch their tuna to MSC, but 2017 at the very latest.

Atuna presents a conundrum:

If Wal-Mart, as the largest retailer in the US, would make the decision to drop its pledge to only sell domestic seafood that is MSC certified, concerns will also be prompted surrounding the use of domestically caught sustainable MSC albacore tuna. If it decides to market sustainable seafood without third-party certification, those trying to stop the expansion of the MSC logo within the American market will gain more leverage, and likely erode the advantages of those who hold the certification.”

As I see it – this is no longer just a sustainable seafood sourcing policy, it stopped being merely this as soon Alaskan politicians got involved and played the ‘American’ card… without actually saying it.

I am looking forward to seeing how Wal-Mart deals with this hospital pass. When it comes to customers, perception is everything…

Wal-Mart has to ask themselves the hard question:

Do we support locally (American) sourced sustainable products; or do we support demonstrably sustainable products?

English: simulated Wal-Mart logo

English: simulated Wal-Mart logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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


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)


Greenpeace: their veracity called into question… once again


According to an editorial published this morning (19 April 2013) by Natalia Real on FIS the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) is accusing Greenpeace of lying about US retailers’ seafood sustainability practices, and thus challenging reporters to interview Greenpeace before “regurgitating” the information in its press releases.

NFI’s complaints follow an education initiative launched last March, allegedly documenting “ongoing manipulation of facts, self-serving tactics and ulterior financial motives behind Greenpeace’s annual seafood sustainability survey and ranking of US grocers.”

According to a statement released by the NFI:

The unscientific survey and report has become the embodiment of media groundhog day and white noise for those involved in real sustainability efforts.”

They are calling on reporters to ask Greenpeace questions if they receive a press release pertaining to this issue.

    • The first question they want answered regards a Greenpeace report, which according to NFI encourages US consumers to “eat less fish” to “help lessen the pressure on our oceans.” The NFI claims that seafood consumption can prevent deaths and wants reporters to ask Greenpeace whether it knows about this and cares at all about the health of US consumers.
    • Another question is related to the Greenpeace’s unwillingness to reveal the methodology used in its grocers survey.

The NFI also recommends asking the group how it would ensure there is enough affordable pole and line tuna to meet consumer demand and what kind of environmental impact studies the group has done on its recommended sourcing methods and how they would affect the cost of canned tuna.

Besides, the NFI suggests Greenpeace is trying to scare the public by lying about the health of tuna stocks to raise funds and wonders how much of its budget goes to research versus publicity.

Furthermore, it questions the fact that a big amount of money from its Rainbow Warrior III donor money should have been used and wonders if it would not have been better to use those resources on research and sustainability efforts.

The new Rainbow Warrior (Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior III) during sea trials.

The new Rainbow Warrior (Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior III) during sea trials.

The editorial also poses the questions:

According to Real the NFI finds it difficult to understand whether the group expects that experts in sustainability of the public should take Greenpeace seriously if its activists wear costumes at demonstrations.

The NFI claims that Greenpeace is a “science-averse” organisation that only cares about fundraising.

National Fisheries Institute

NFI  is a non-profit organization dedicated to education about seafood safety, sustainability, and nutrition. From vessels at sea to your favorite seafood restaurant, our diverse member companies bring delicious fish and shellfish to American families. NFI promotes the US Dietary Guidelines that suggest Americans include fish and shellfish in their diets twice per week for longer, healthier lives.

NFI and its members are committed to sustainable management of our oceans and being stewards of our environment by endorsing the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Fisheries. Our investment in our oceans today will provide our children and future generations the health benefits of a plentiful supply of fish and seafood tomorrow.

From responsible aquaculture, to a marketplace supporting free trade, to ensuring the media and consumers have the facts about the health benefits of fish and shellfish, NFI and its members support and promote sound public policy based on ground truth science.