Louisiana Blue Crab Fishery Pursues International Seafood Sustainability Certification

July 16, 2010 09:30

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board representing approximately 3,000 commercial crab fishermen licensed by the state, has entered the Louisiana blue crab fishery into the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) certification program, which is recognized around the world for its rigorous, independent, environmental standard for the assessment of wild capture fisheries, reports www.megafishnet.com with reference to MSC.

While crab is landed from all state waters, more than half of the Louisiana blue crab is harvested primarily from two areas:  Lake Pontchartrain basin and Terrebonne basin.  The Lake Pontchartrain basin borders New Orleans to the north and east and includes the lake, marshes and sounds to the southeast and the Terrebonne Basin is located southwest of New Orleans.

The assessment process will be open and transparent, as required by the MSC.  MSC emphasizes that the certification is not a management program and does not replace the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries management of the fishery.  Impact of the spill will be considered in relation to impact on the sustainability of the stock, however, decisions regarding opening and closing state waters in relation to the spill, and other fisheries management decisions, remain fully the jurisdiction of the state.  The MSC process is a voluntary, independent third-party evaluation of the fishery against an internationally accepted standard for environmentally responsible and well-managed wild-capture fisheries.

The MSC does not conduct the assessment.  It is conducted by an independent, third-party certifier who engages scientific experts to conduct the evaluation. The certification report is also peer reviewed by scientists whose experience is equivalent to the expert team. An assessment typically takes 12 or more months and analyzes fishery data and a multitude of scientific indicators against the Marine Stewardship Council Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing that includes three core principles: health of the fish stock, fishery impacts on the ecosystem, and fishery management.  If a fishery becomes certified, the certificate is good for five years subject to annual surveillance audits to measure the on-going status of the fishery against the MSC core principles and any specific action items, called conditions, which could be placed on the fishery as a result of the assessment process. The MSC program does not evaluate food safety or quality, which are the purview of local, state and federal programs, which have bolstered testing in recent weeks.

MSC requires a certifier to encourage and enable significant stakeholder involvement throughout the assessment process.  MSC publishes the independent certifier's reports at key milestones to ensure that all interested parties can actively follow the assessment and participate if they so choose. Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an independent and internationally accredited certifier, will conduct the assessment.

The MSC program also involves a robust, audited traceability program called Chain of Custody to ensure seafood bearing the MSC ecolabel can be fully traced back to the fishery of origin.   If certified, products sold by blue crab processors who have gained a separate MSC Chain of Custody certification will be eligible to bear the MSC ecolabel recognizing products from well-managed and sustainable sources.  Around the world, the distinctive blue MSC ecolabel is a symbol of credibility in the marketplace andhighly regarded..  Today, more than 5,000 seafood products sold in 68 countries bear the MSC ecolabel telling consumers the product comes from a sustainable and well-managed fishery.
About the Louisiana Blue Crab Fishery

The fishery under assessment is blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), caught by trap in the state waters of Louisiana.    The fishery is open year round and operates strictly during daylight hours.  Harvesters target hard shell blue crabs for the processed meat market and also soft shelled crabs for the peeler market.  Louisiana blue crab is sold exclusively in the United States.  The annual catch of blue crab in Louisiana has averaged over 40 million pounds in recent years.

Lake Pontchartrain is an estuary located in southeastern Louisiana. It is the second-largest saltwater lake in the United States, after the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and the largest lake in Louisiana. It covers an area of 630 square miles with an average depth of 12 to 14 feet. 

The Terrebonne Basin supports about 1,140 square miles of wetlands, grading from fresh marsh inland to brackish and saline marsh near the bays and the Gulf. The southern end of the basin is defined by a series of narrow, low-lying barrier islands separated from the mainland marshes by a series of wide, shallow lakes and bays.
What the fishery says

Ewell Smith, Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board says: "While we began taking steps to enter the MSC program long before the Gulf oil spill, the assessment now takes on new urgency and importance.  Because of the oil spill, there are questions and concerns about the health of this and other fisheries in the Gulf, off the coast of Louisiana, and the assessment process against the Marine Stewardship Council environmental standard will help answers these questions."  Smith also says "We are working diligently to retain the Louisiana Seafood brand in our markets in the face of the spill, and independent third-party sustainability certification will assist our efforts." 
What the MSC says

Kerry Coughlin, MSC Americas regional director, says: "Fishermen, fishing families and communities have been tremendously hard hit by the Gulf oil spill.  MSC certification has brought market recognition to fisheries of many sizes and scales around the world, and has helped preserve livelihoods and important legacies for fisheries with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability.  We sincerely hope that will be the case for the blue crab fishermen of Louisiana."

Anyone who would like to bring information about the fishery to the attention of independent certifier Scientific Certification Systems can be involved in the assessment process. If you would like to be involved, please contact Jason Swecker at jswecker@scscertified.com .

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