The Marine Stewardship Council MSC logo certifies sustainable fisheries – at least that´s what we are being told. It is always tricky, if the one that certifies the fishery or a company also receives money for each sold item carrying the logo. Now that´s exactly what´s happening with the MSC certification. A study by the GEOMAR institut in Kiel investigated MSC certified fish stocks. For 11% they didn´t have enough information and incredible 31% were still subject of ongoing overfishing clearly indicating that we are being cheated in some cases. One third of the fish, which is sold using the MSC logo as a consumers magnet, is therefore not sustainably caught!
The MSC was founded in 1997 by Unilever, a massive multinational consumer goods company and the Worldwide Fund for Nature WWF, so its a collaboration between the industry and a conservation group. Two years later it became independent of the two, though the WWF is still present in the MSC board. There are several requirements for a fishery to be certified by a independent consultant (which is in most cases paid by the company):
Though fisheries are also certified without meeting all the standards set by the MSC. The assessors are paid by the fisheries that want to be certified, which leads to a conflict of interests.
The idea of a logo/label indicating good fishing methods and concern for nature is indeed very good and is an excellent approach to help the consumers decide which fish to eat and which not. The problem is that some fisheries are also certified which cannot be sustainable, simply because the way they fish cannot be sustainable. Bottom Trawling is one of the most destructive fisheries of them all, as it is literally digging the ground and ripping of coral gardens which might have grown for thousands of years. In a matter of seconds this is all gone. Only because the “need” of fish fingers and other sea food must be continuously met. Fisheries like that should not be allowed to sell their products using the MSC logo, claiming it is fishing in accordance with the environment. IT IS NOT! And we consumers should know that and not support these products.
MSC is financed about half from contributions by donors and half from license fees (source: http://oceanrep.geomar.de/14215/1/MSC_FOS_MarPol_Final.doc), meaning if less products with the MSC logo are being sold, they earn less money. Thus, more fisheries might be certified without meeting the correct standards all in the name of profit. Every non-issued or withdrawn certification means less income. Hard to believe, that this doesn´t influence the certification process.
Yes, if fish is on our menu, we should. The study by the GEMOAR institute also notes, that the chance that the fish is caught from sustainably fished stocks is three to four times higher than average. Nevertheless a closer look at the fish we want to consume and the way it was caught should be routine as the logo itself gives us no guarantee. For those of us, who really love and admire fish, the only alternative might be to stop eating fish. That´s the safest way to protect them if you do not depend on it as a main food source.
For my german readers I recommend taking the time to watch this 8 minute video. It explains how the economic interest affects the certification process.
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.