MSC statement in response to Food and Water Watch report

June 17, 2011 11:07

The Food and Water Europe report: "De-coding Seafood Eco-labels: How the European Commission Can Help Consumer Accesss Sustainable Seafood" claims that no seafood ecolabel is consistent with FAO Guidelines for the ecolabelling of wild-capture seafood, reports with reference to MSC.

Since the publication of the FAO Guidelines for the Eco-labelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries in 2005, the MSC has ensured that its certification and ecolabelling program is consistent with the FAO Guidelines and goes further to meet the ISEAL Alliance membership requirements. These requirements embody the highest standards of stakeholder involvement and consultation.
No conflict of interest in independent scientific assessment of fisheries

The authors state: ‘...there is an inherent conflict of interest between an organization's desire to maintain healthy oceans and a need to grow its own brand name."

Throughout the report, the authors confuse the MSC (the Standard setter) with the Certifiers that carry out assessments. MSC assessments are carried out by independently accredited, third party Certifiers, whose findings are subject to peer and stakeholder review. This is as required by the FAO Guidelines.
Fishers involved in assessments

The authors assert that the MSC ‘bypasses national laws and marginalises fisherpeople.'

The MSC Standard specifically requires (Under Criterion 3.4) that fishery management systems shall: "observe the legal and customary rights and long term interests of people dependent on fishing for food and livelihood, in a manner consistent with ecological sustainability."

The involvement of fishers, whether as part of the unit of certification or as stakeholders outside the unit of certification) is also mandated in the MSC Fishery Certification Methodology.
Hoki - a flourishing fishery with falling bycatch

Contrary to the report's assertions, the New Zealand hoki fishery is a sustainable and well managed fishery. Like all MSC certified fisheries, it has passed an independent, peer-reviewed and stakeholder-reviewed assessment that included over two years of detailed scientific analysis and stakeholder input.

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries (in 2008-2009 data), there has been a significant reduction in seal bycatch and the population of fur seals has actually increased during the past 30 years. The bycatch of seabirds in the fishery has also reduced and is falling and the fishery continues to take active measures to reduce the number of seabirds caught during fishing activities.
Ecosystem impacts assessed in MSC methodology

The report claims that the MSC methodology does not require ecosystem impacts of the fishery to be assessed, as required by Criterion 29.3 of the FAO Guidelines, and cites the certification of the Alaska pollock fishery as an example.

Principle 2 of the MSC standard examines the scale and likelihood of a fishery's impacts on the marine ecosystem, as required under Criterion 29.3 (and further explained in Paragraph 31) of the FAO Guidelines. Principle 2 aims to encourage ecosystem-based fisheries management under a system designed to assess and reduce the impacts of the fishery on the ecosystem.

In the Alaska pollock assessments, the fishery's bycatch was assessed both in the initial assessment and subsequent reassessment of the fishery. The reports show that Alaska pollock is one of the most targeted fisheries in the world with less than 1% of the catch discarded. The stock is also flourishing with a total biomass of 9.6 million tonnes in 2010.
Conditions are driving change and helping fisheries become more sustainable

The report states that conditions are applied to fisheries which fail to meet criteria: this is incorrect.  Fisheries must meet at least the 60 scoring level against all 31 criteria of the MSC standard.  This is the scientifically-recognised ‘minimum acceptable limit' for sustainable fishing operations (the level at which the basic biological and ecological processes of all components impacted by the fishery are not compromised now or into the future).

Beyond this, the MSC requires any score between 60 and 80 to be improved to the 80 level over the course of the certification period. The 80 level represents global best management practice, and the MSC system ensures that certified fisheries work towards a higher standard of sustainability. A certifier can set ‘conditions', or management plans specifying measurable improvements that fisheries are  required to fulfill as part of the certification decision, so that a fishery can achieve this higher standard of sustainability.

The MSC believes the movement of fisheries from the 60 to 80 levels is a positive outcome for the world's fisheries and directly in line with the MSC's vision. This is one of the tenets of MSC's theory of change.

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