/ Developing World / Welcome to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global blog

Welcome to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global blog

Maldives pole and line skipjack tuna fishers
Rebecca Fordham on February 19, 2014 - 12:07 pm in Developing World, Environmental impact, Ocean health, Science and technology, Sustainable seafood
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Welcome to our new blog from the Marine Stewardship Council where we will explore our vision to safeguard seafood supplies for this and future generations. With your support for our ecolabel and fishery certification program we can make that vision a reality.

We will use this blog to explain why seafood matters. We will explain our sometimes complex standards and principles; we will introduce you to some of the people who work hard behind the scenes at MSC; we will offer perspectives on the urgent issues facing our oceans; we will explore species we all love, such as beautiful tuna that cruise the oceans up to 55 miles an hour, bring you photoessays from our fisheries and gorgeous picture galleries from the deep, and of course we will give you tasty suggestions for all the MSC labelled fish you can eat.

So first, a look back at where we came from…

For centuries, cod was so abundant off the coast of Newfoundland that a scoop through the waves with a basket would land a decent catch. Fishing was one of the last industries to be modernised during the industrial revolution, but when it did, it soon caught up.

By 1992, Grand Banks cod was at 1% of its original biomass. The stock had collapsed, and the only sensible response was the introduction of a moratorium on cod fishing which sank Canada’s largest north-eastern industry overnight, taking the region’s major source of income with it.

Although most North Atlantic cod is still off the menu, we are now beginning to see the impact of that moratorium. But it has taken 22 years for cod stocks to show signs of recovery and it will be a while before certain stocks earn MSC certification. To cut through the confusion, just look for the MSC blue ecolabel on certified fish from Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Russia listed on our product finder.

The founding of the MSC: a scientific standard and market-based solution

At the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the Canadian government proposed World Oceans day, which has now become a regular June fixture for fisheries, businesses, retailers, advocates, policymakers and scientists. The Earth Summit also gave rise eventually to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 1997, the year that the MSC was founded through a partnership between WWF and Unilever, which recognised its role as a force for good in pushing businesses in a more sustainable direction.

The MSC was established with an environmental mission and tasked with developing a market-based solution at a time when the concept of social enterprise was still emerging.

We brought together a broad coalition of stakeholders around the table to develop consensus and strike the right balance between sustainability and the bottom line for the industry, which was valued at $217bn in 2011. And for the first time, we shone a light into an industry that otherwise kept its doors firmly shut to outsiders.

In 1997, we were formally established as an independent non-profit organisation and our certifications now cover 8.8% of the world’s wild capture fish stocks. We have since amassed an enormous amount of scientific data and developed a robust standard, based on ecosystem-based management (ESBM). In the simplest terms, our standard is founded on three principles: the status of the target stock; impact on the ecosystem; management effectiveness.

Image showing a female consumer at a supermarket fish counter purchasing fresh MSC certified sustainable seafood.

Working with partners around the globe

We were the first science-based sustainable seafood certification body and continue to be the only ecolabel with global reach. We now have almost two decades worth of scientific data and expertise that retailers and consumers can trust.

Walmart, Whole Foods, Carrefour, ALDI, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Aeon in Asia, are just a handful of retailers that stock MSC certified fish with the blue ecolabel.

McDonald’s Fillet-o-Fish has been MSC certified in Europe since 2011 and in the US since 2013. Meanwhile, there are 11 US universities currently serving MSC certified fish and 20 more in the pipeline, and 23 in the UK. Raymond Blanc has partnered with us to promote sustainable seafood among students and consumers more broadly.

Since 2006, Our Fish and Kids programme has targeted four to 11-year-olds in the UK and has been introduced in Sweden, France and is due to launch in the Netherlands in the summer of 2014.

Scientific rigour

Man in white laboratory coat conducting DNA testing on seafood samples

Our Chain of Custody provides transparency throughout the supply chain and traceability from MSC’s sustainable fisheries to the dining table. Last year, independent research published in our Global Impacts report found that over 99% of 381 tested products were correctly labelled, i.e. only 2 or 3 were mislabelled.

We have been able to achieve this level of accuracy because when we started out, we took our time and great care to develop our standards. They had to be simultaneously scientifically rigorous and respected by industry so that businesses would want to take up the challenges that come with sustainable standards.

Between 1997 and 1999, the MSC consulted more than 200 scientists, environmentalists and stakeholders to establish the world’s first global certification system for sustainable fisheries. But we didn’t stop there and we continue to engage with NGOs, industry, governments and academics – between January 2012 and January 2014, we introduced 14 new conditions after consultation with 354 groups, representing 30% of comments.

Over time, we have naturally attracted competition from other certification bodies. This competition is welcome if it means that more of the world’s wild fish stocks move towards sustainable management.

But our standards weren’t written on the back of an envelope – there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the way to get to the stage where our first fishery, West Australia Rock Lobster, entered assessment in 1999 and was certified a year later. At the time of posting we have 208 certified fisheries and a further 98 in assessment in 35 countries.

Impacts of the MSC program

Some complain that we are not doing enough, but it is always easier to point out problems than provide solutions and we prefer to focus on the impacts of our work.

Over the past 14 years, there have been almost 400 improvements in MSC certified fisheries. Thirteen fisheries reached best practice levels, such as the North Sea herring fishery. Twenty-two fisheries have completed habitat and ecosystem improvements, including gear modification, investment in research and closed areas. Sixty-four fisheries have completed fishery management improvements including strengthened compliance with regulations.

We can’t think of another sustainable seafood body that has had quite such a significant impact. But as any independent non-profit will attest, social and environmental missions are by nature difficult to achieve – their aim is to solve intractable problems that civil society and governments cannot achieve on their own.

Some may even say that certification is given too easily. That’s not so. Around 60% of fisheries that apply for assessment fall at the first hurdle and don’t even make it into the program.

Working to inspire change

We work in partnership to create models for intelligent stewardship and we’d like all the world’s fisheries to be responsible custodians for the common, global good. We work to inspire change and create a market pull among consumers and suppliers – an appreciation of the economic and environmental value of sustainably sourced fish has the best chance of a transformative impact on the world’s oceans.

Some also say that we favour industrial fisheries. But for maximum impact, large fisheries have to be part of the solution.

Image from beach in Gambia showing fishermen bringing in their catch and the large community of workers who then process, sort and pack the fish.

The MSC and developing world fisheries

The January 2014 launch of the $53m Vibrant Oceans initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies to promote reforms in Brazil, the Philippines and Chile, was a welcome addition to philanthropic efforts in sustainable seafood. But we know that we cannot maintain supply through artisanal fishing alone and 1 billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein.

However, the impact of fishing on the developing world cannot be underestimated. Developing world fisheries are far from minnows and if a stock collapsed on the scale of the Newfoundland fishery in the developing world, the social impacts would be devastating.

The FAO estimates that there are currently 35m million people engaged in wild capture fisheries, 90% of whom work in small-scale fisheries. The share of developing countries in total fishery exports was about 53% by value and 60% by quantity in 2011. Fishery net exports of developing countries have shown a continuing rising trend, growing to $34.5 billion in 2011. That figure is significantly higher than for other agricultural commodities such as rice, coffee and tea.

Developing world fisheries account for 7% of the total of MSC certified fisheries and 9% of fisheries in full assessment. More than 40 developing world fisheries have had pre-assessment and are engaging in a Fishery Improvement Plan, including the Gambia tonguesole fishery.

We’ve come a long way since 1997 and there have been no more large-scale collapses like Newfoundland cod. But we’re still a long way from mission accomplished.

The Economist World Ocean Summit

Seafood is the largest-traded food commodity in the world and is a key part of global food security. Pressing issues of governance and sustainability will be the focus of next week’s Economist World Ocean Summit in San Francisco.

Keynotes from US secretary of state, John Kerry, and HRH the Prince of Wales, show how seriously we need to take the state of our world’s oceans. While Maria Damanaki, the EU commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, and Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN environment programme, should be able to explain how they plan to deliver.

Hopefully, it will be more than a talking shop, and action will follow. As the agenda points out: “The challenges of creating and executing these approaches are enormous, requiring political consensus and commitment, clear legal mandates, cutting-edge science, and an engaged and inclusive civil society where all stakeholders are consulted and share ownership of the process.”

They’re right. We need a seachange to help consumers make an informed decision and transform the market so that all fish is sustainably sourced. Without our work to date, fisheries around the world would certainly be in worse shape. In future, as we work towards our vision, we need everyone on board.

Rebecca Fordham

Rebecca Fordham is the global communications director at the Marine Stewardship Council, overseeing MSC’s communications and marketing teams around the world. Prior to joining MSC in September 2013, Rebecca led UNICEF’s global child protection communications at the agency’s headquarters in New York. Previously, she was a BBC news and current affairs producer in London, Cairo and Washington, D.C.

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