MSC as an agent of change in the global seafood trade
I grew up in Brittany, which is surrounded by the sea; half of France’s fish is caught and landed there, so where I’m from has certainly influenced me in my choices. Before I moved to the MSC, I was working as an export manager for a leading seafood processor in France, and one of my Swiss customers asked me to source some MSC certified hoki, which was my first interaction.
I found the concept really interesting. At the time the anchovy stock off the coast of France was collapsing. My cousin was a fisher in that fishery, so I knew of the threats to livelihoods and to the area, and thought: yes, we need a positive system to encourage sustainable management of fisheries.
The MSC offers a market driven solution; it’s the carrot not the stick. Fishers sometimes perceive regulation as a constraint, but we create incentive by saying if you demonstrate your sustainability or improve your practices, you can get market benefits, and that’s a very positive aspect. The MSC is complementary to policy makers and existing regulations; it’s one tool in the box.
Global seafood trade exports were valued at US$63 billion in 2003, more than the combined value of net exports of rice, coffee, sugar and tea according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Market incentives are the best kind of incentives you can create for change. We are a global non-profit organisation set up to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis, we use ecolabelling and fisheries identification program to highlight sustainable fishing practices.
Our vision and mission is of healthy oceans and ecosystems, but also about safeguarding seafood supplies for future generations. We have an environmental goal and a livelihood one. What we are trying to do is create a market for sustainable seafood and give companies access to this market. The demand from companies such as McDonald’s, Iglo and Findus for sustainable white fish like cod, hake, pollock and so on, prompted fisheries like Eastern Baltic cod to gain certification to keep on selling to those big customers. And, if you look at the stocks in that particular fishery, from terrible levels 10 years ago compared to now, the ecosystem’s health is greatly improved.
Another example is the US Alaskan pollock fishery, which was certified in 2005, and its main competitor the Russian pollock fishery which wasn’t certified. To remain competitive the Russian fishery then made significant improvements, and finally got certified this year. This is another great example of MSC’s theory of change, to reward the best, improve the rest.
There are still many fisheries out there that are sustainable that don’t have ecolabelling, but the MSC blue fish is a useful tool, because while many consumers really want to do the right thing, most don’t know a lot about sustainability. Ecolabelling is a simple tool which helps consumers in making sustainable choices.
Soon, we will have 9 billion people on the planet and if we don’t look at the sustainability of wild fish now, we will have serious problems in the future. My advice would be to look for the MSC blue fish symbol; because it gives you the assurance that your fish has been caught sustainably and traded in a monitored supply chain. If you can’t find it, ask questions of the person selling you your fish. If more people ask, and suppliers don’t know the answer, they will find out, and that will raise much-needed awareness around sustainability.
This article was written in support of the European Commission’s ‘Inseparable’ campaign, which aims to encourage European citizens to eat, buy and sell more sustainable fish.