Worldwide protection of fish resources is a must

January 11, 2008 09:24

Interview with Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Sustainability is a major topic and a central theme connecting all the different branches of the industry at fish international 2008 which will be held at the Bremen Exhibition Centre from 10th to 12th February.

About 400 exhibitors from 40 countries will be taking part in Germany's leading trade fair for fish and seafood, among them the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an independent NGO which has developed criteria for sustainable fishing. The MSC runs the only internationally recognised eco-certification and labelling programme for fisheries.

Rupert Howes has been the Chief Executive of MSC since October 2004. He will be giving a talk on buying sustainable fish - "Sustainability determines product ranges" - as part of the Food Retailing Forum at fish international on Monday 11th February at 15.00.

There is a lot of talk about seafood sustainability. What is the role of MSC?

Rupert Howes: Three quarters of the oceans' fish stocks are either fished to their limit or in decline. The world's population is growing at a fast rate and consumes more and more fish and seafood. It is clear that we have to preserve fish stocks to secure supplies, safeguard livelihoods and maintain the functionality of the oceans' ecosystems.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was founded to address this challenge. Our third-party environmental certification and eco-labelling programme for fisheries and the supply chain creates market incentives for the sustainable exploitation of seafood resources.

Apart from setting and maintaining rigorous environmental standards, the MSC's main task is to boost uptake of its programme among fisheries and companies in the supply chain. We are an international non-profit organisation that works across all stakeholder groups to seek support for our eco-label and increase demand for certified sustainable seafood.

How far has the MSC come in its efforts?

Howes: To date, 26 fisheries worldwide are certified to our standard, including high volume species such as Alaska pollock as well as low volume ones such as Cornish mackerel. Over 1,000 fish and seafood products with our blue eco-label are on sale in 35 countries. An increasing number of fisheries apply to be assessed against the MSC standard and a rising number of processors and retailers get engaged in our programme.

The MSC runs the only widely recognised environmental certification programme for wild capture fisheries. Certification to the MSC standards gives fisheries and companies in the supply chain an edge in the marketplace since demand for certified sustainable seafood is at an all-time high and steadily rising all over the world.

Many MSC-certified fisheries have achieved preferred supplier status, some have reported price premiums for their catch and others have gained access to new markets thanks to certification.

Sourcing MSC-labelled fish gives companies the assurance that they buy from well managed and sustainable fisheries. This provides for a stable supply of fish and seafood and helps keeping illegally caught fish out of the supply chain. Demonstrating good environmental practice also boosts relations with the industry, community, conservation groups and the public.

What is the situation in Germany when it comes to sustainable seafood and MSC?

Howes: Germany has seen a steady increase in MSC-labelled seafood items in the past two years and sells the highest volume of MSC-labelled products worldwide. Currently, there are over 130 labelled items in retail and foodservice outlets. Major players such as Aldi, Deutsche See, Friedrichs, Frosta, iglo, Lidl and Metro have launched products from MSC-certified fisheries and intend to widen their offer continuously.

A growing number of seafood companies are seeking certification to our traceability standard to be able to offer their customers certified sustainable fish. Retailers are placing seafood sustainability higher on their agenda due to supply concerns and pressure from NGOs and the public. On the fisheries side, North Sea saithe is the first German fishery to be assessed to the MSC standard.

The demand for MSC products is rising and higher than the offer. How will this be solved? What is the future outlook?

Howes: It is true that MSC-labelled supplies are not meeting market demand for some species and product specifications just yet. This is due to the fact that the MSC programme is still relatively new and assessment to the MSC standard is a big commitment. Many fisheries see a need to change their practices before considering themselves ready for a comprehensive and strict assessment of their environmental performance.

However, there are no shortages for other species such as Alaska pollock and market demands can easily be met. At present, more than 50 fisheries are at various stages of the assessment process and a number of fisheries from important nations such as France and Norway have announced their interest in becoming certified. Thus, availability of MSC-labelled fish and seafood will continue to grow as more and more fisheries apply for assessment.

What can visitors to fish international expect when they visit the MSC stand?

Howes: The MSC stand is located in hall 5 D-26 and MSC staff will be happy to explain to fisheries, processors, retailers and any other stakeholders how assessment to the MSC standard works and what the benefits of certification are. With the first fresh fish counters in Germany becoming certified for Chain of Custody - the MSC's traceability standard - we especially welcome any fishmongers who want to find out more about the MSC programme.

Interested parties are welcome to arrange for a meeting by contacting Marnie Bammert at marnie.bammert@msc.org or +44 20 7811 3314.

Apart from this, visitors to fish international can catch me between 3 and 5 pm on Monday, 11 February, at the Food Retailing Forum „Nachhaltigkeit bestimmt die Sortimente", where I will hold a presentation on sustainable seafood sourcing. MSC certification will also be highlighted at the annual fishmongers' meeting on Sunday, 10 February, from 2 to 5 pm

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