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Sustainable Seafood

MSC Sustainable Seafood Standards Yielding Economic, Environmental Benefits

By Andrew Burger
sustainable seafood

From consumers through processors, distributors and fishing fleets, actors and agents spanning the entire seafood industry value chain have a long-term vested interest in making sustainable use of the ocean's bounty. Taking up that challenge and responsibility, sustainable seafood initiatives are on the rise, and they are beginning to show positive results.

The number of seafood products that earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification rose five-fold in four years and increased by 21 percent through September 2013, according to data MSC presented at its Global Commercial Network meeting during the Seafood Expo Global 2014 in Brussels.

MSC membership is broadening and deepening. The 221 certified fisheries in the MSC program and another 106 that are under assessment represent 10.5 percent of the worldwide total, according to the sustainable seafood certification pioneer. Furthermore, the MSC program is extending into new seafood markets and segments, such as sustainably sourced fish oil supplements.

Sustainable seafood: Growing awareness, growing demand

The annual net wholesale value of MSC-certified seafood products reached $4.5 billion through September of last year, with a retail value an additional 40 percent higher. Commenting on the success, Nicolas Guichoux, MSC's global commercial director, stated:

"This growth would not be possible without the participation of our partners throughout the value chain who deliver environmental choice to the consumer. MSC certified fisheries are now part of a global elite of sustainable and well-managed fisheries."

MSC-Certified Seafood: Key Figures

  • Together, fisheries already certified or in full assessment record annual catches of around 10 million metric tons of seafood. This represents over 10 percent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries.

  • The fisheries already certified catch over 7 million metric tons of seafood. This is over 8 percent of the total wild capture harvest.

  • Worldwide, more than 22, 000 seafood products, which can be traced back to the certified sustainable fisheries, bear the blue MSC ecolabel. Use MSC's sustainable seafood product finder to see what's available in stores in your country.

MSC enumerated and elaborated on the economic and environmental benefits its sustainable seafood certification program is having at its latest annual Global Commercial Network meeting.

For example, environmental gains in South Africa's hake fishery – in which some 8,300 people are employed – include quota reductions, ring-fencing of fishing grounds, by-catch management and a 90-percent reduction in seabird mortality -- the result of deploying streamer lines. Sixty-percent of South Africa's hake catch is exported, bringing in “$180 million in annual revenue and indirectly supporting a network of logistics companies, secondary processors and exporters,” MSC notes.

Overall, more than 450 fisheries' improvements have been recorded to date, details of which are due to be published this year in a second MSC Global impacts report.

"We will record more evidence of improvements for the next 10 years -- it won't be the last time you'll hear the MSC talking about the environmental impact that our partners make,” Guichoux added.

Streamlining the MSC certification process

Moving forward, MSC is finalizing a quintennial Fisheries Standard Review. It has also launched a review of its Chain of Custody, whereby MSC-certified seafood is traced from fishery to market.

Looking to simplify, streamline and reduce the costs of MSC certification, the organization is also undertaking “a speed and cost review.” As MSC Chief Executive Rupert Howes stated:

"The improvements that we're looking to put to the board could potentially reduce the costs of engagement by fishery clients by up to 50 percent. There are costs, but there are also benefits and they have to be looked at together."

Gaining credibility for MSC's science-based approach

MSC's inclusive, science-driven approach to certification, and its ability to communicate that effectively to gain credibility and trust among participants across the seafood industry value chain, have been keys to MSC's success to date, Howes highlighted.

"MSC 's standard for environmentally responsible and sustainable fishing is science-based. Part of the success of the program and the momentum behind it is that people have confidence in that standard - it has to be a high bar to underpin the sustainability."

Added Jari Latvanen, chief executive officer of Findus Nordic: "The food business is all about building trust with consumers and consumer awareness of sustainability is increasing. It's all about making more sustainable choices. From that perspective, MSC is a great tool to make the choice when buying or shopping for fish. "But we have to put more effort into the brand. Yes, we need the MSC's third-party verification that we are sourcing sustainably, but then the brand needs to do the talking and build the relationship with the consumers. In order to get the message across we need to be really single-minded."

Expanding MSC: Asia and tuna

With consumer awareness and preference for sustainable seafood high in Europe and North America, the MSC program is beginning to gain traction in Asia, where MSC sees its greatest growth potential.

"In Japan, there's already engagement, and an increasing demand for MSC labelled products," Howes said. "We're even seeing the start of that in China -- it's very early stages, but the prevailing view is that in most major markets in the world, people are demanding sustainably sourced product. It has grown so fast in the past five years and we'll see it accelerate in Asia in the next few years.

When it comes to the most popular and widely caught wild fish in the world, tuna is No. 1. That makes tuna a marked species for fishing fleets the world over.

Growing concerns about over-exploitation of tuna fisheries, particularly in the Western Pacific, has been high up on the minds of those involved in negotiating international fisheries agreements. Hans Brus, managing director at Pacifical, sees great potential for MSC-certifed tuna to help forge a resolution.

However, when it comes to tuna, “you don’t see big numbers of MSC certification,” Bruns stated.

“It’s worrisome. The MSC certification that I’m working with in PNA countries have fisheries worth more than 400,000 metric tons of MSC-eligible fish, which comes down to more or less 5 percent of the volume of MSC-eligible catches in the world.”

Spanning a vast area of the western Pacific Ocean, the eight PNA island nations account for 25 percent of the global tuna catch. As Bruns continued:

"There is a massive demand in the world for this sustainable tuna. But none of that is coming to the market. We’ve been certified with a 'Chain of Custody' certification for almost one and a half years and we’ve only been able to reach 0.2 percent of the volume. Retailers in the US and Europe are asking for this tuna to come to the market and not even 0.5 percent reaches the market.”

3p has been covering trends and developments in sustainable seafood extensively of late. For more, check out our Sustainable Seafood sponsored series.

Image credit: Pexels

Andrew Burger headshot

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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