When purchasing sustainable products most people rely on eco-labels: images posted on packaging that indicate that the producer of that item has adhered to a given set of criteria on the environmental impact of production. Not all eco-labels are alike, however, so it is important to ensure that the one you go by uses third party certification and has rigorous standards.
When purchasing sustainable seafood there may be several different eco-labels available to you, but the one that is largest and most well-known is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC now accounts for about 10% of global wild caught seafood (as compared to aquaculture/farmed fish) but this proportion is often much higher in developed countries, where the demand for certified fish is higher. In Canada, for example, 67% of domestic wild catch seafood is MSC certified.
In addition to being the most widely used eco-label, MSC is also well-known for its rigorous standards (although it has been criticized for focusing too narrowly on the sustainability of fish stocks instead of the overall environmental impact of fisheries and the fish supply chain, as well as for having a process that is too burdensome for small fisheries and fisheries in developing countries). If you are looking for sustainably caught seafood, the MSC is probably your best bet: it is the most likely to actually be available in stores near you and has standards that are reasonably stringent and evaluated impartially, based on evidence.
The MSC is noteworthy today because it just released its annual report documenting the eco-label's fifteenth year since the first fishery was MSC certified. Some of the highlights from the annual report are included below.
The Highlights of MSC's Annual Report
UPTAKE: THE MSC CONTINUES TO GROW
- MSC certified 40 new fisheries -- which is pretty good when you consider that a total of 256 fisheries are MSC certified, in 36 countries. There are 34 500 businesses that sell MSC certified products (which came from those certified fisheries) to consumers in 97 countries.
- MSC added the first certified fisheries in China and India. Although most MSC certified fisheries exist in developing countries, the MSC emphasized the strides that it has taken to improve accessibility to developing country fisheries. A total of 19 developing country fisheries are certified, with a further 11 in assessment.
- IKEA committed to sell only MSC certified seafood in all of its stores globally. MSC has previously grown the eco-label by securing similar pledges, for example from Unilever and Walmart.
- For some species, MSC certification is now the norm: for example, nearly half of whitefish (i.e. cod, haddock, pollock) and just over half of wild-caught salmon is MSC certified.
CANADIAN FISHERIES ARE IMPROVING ON SUSTAINABILITY
- Lobster certification grew a lot this year, largely because key lobster fisheries in Canada became certified -- 97% of Canadian Atlantic lobster is now MSC certified!
- MSC also highlighted the strides that the fisheries of the North Atlantic and the Arctic have taken since the 1992 collapse of the Grand Banks cod fishery in Newfoundland. Now these fisheries are "world leaders in sustainability and good management", according to MSC.
- Overall, 73% of Canadian fisheries (by value) are engaged in the MSC process.
MSC UPDATED ITS FISHERIES STANDARD THIS YEAR
- This year MSC completed its review process of the Fisheries Standard after two years of consultations with experts, NGOs and other actors.
- Based on the new Standard, the cumulative impacts that fisheries have on non-target species must be taken into account during fishery assessments. So, if a fishery that catches fish A is sustainable for fish A but creates adverse effects for the population of fish B, that is now something that is taken into account.
- The Standard introduces new measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems like cold water coral.
- There is now a clearer MSC policy against forced labor: companies that have been successfully prosecuted for forced labor violations cannot be MSC certified. This was a response to rising public concern about forced labour in the seafood industry, based on US government reporting and media attention on the issue.
AN MSC CONSUMER SURVEY FOUND ENCOURAGING RESULTS ON CONSUMER DEMAND FOR SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
- MSC surveyed 9000 seafood buyers from 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America.
- 41% of respondents look for sustainably sourced fish products, up from 36% in 2010.
- 33% recognize the MSC label, up from 25% in 2010.
MSC WANTS YOU TO TAKE #FISHFACE SELFIES
Well, they did, anyway. MSC was part of a campaign led by the World Wildlife Fund UK to celebrate Earth Hour 2015 through #fishface selfies. A brief search of the hashtag now suggests that it is no longer primarily associated with environmental solidarity, however....
MSC GETS MOST OF ITS MONEY FROM LICENSING THE LOGO AND SPENDS MOST OF ITS MONEY ON POLICY, EDUCATION, AND OUTREACH
- 75% of MSC revenue came from licensing the eco-label, while most of the rest emanated from donations
- Expenditures were split in roughly even proportion between three activities: policy and maintaining the Standard; education and awareness; and fisheries servicing and outreach.