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Sustainable fish logo row

In our Spring 2010 issue we featured a guide to ethical labels and logos. One of those was the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) logo for sustainable fish. A recent article in the Guardian called into question the sustainability of the newest fisheries to be accredited by the MSC.

Marine Stewardship Council logo

The article quoted Richard Page, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, who said decisions to recognise some fisheries as sustainable “seriously undermine” MSC’s credibility.

"I will go as far as to say consumers are being duped. They think they are buying fish that are sustainable and can eat them with a clean conscience,” Richard said in the Guardian article.

Richard was especially concerned about an MSC-certified toothfish fishery in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic as scientists do not yet fully understand the lifecycle of the species.

Other areas of concern for Greenpeace are the fishing of krill in the Antarctic, tuna and swordfish off the US coast, pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea and Pacific. Greenpeace say these fish species have all seen massive drops in their numbers in recent years.

Another conservationist was concerned about the latest MSC decisions.

"The MSC has rushed to accept applications from hundreds of fisheries around the globe in order to grow their business and network. Many of those are actually viewed by scientists as unsustainable. They should really take a closer look before they even engage with those fisheries,” the Guardian quoted Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist with the Turtle Island Restoration Network, as saying.

In a letter to The Spark, the MSC’s Toby Middleton, UK country manager, rejected the findings of the article, saying the figures were not up to date.

Toby said that the toothfish fishery was “a sustainable, commercial fishery with a strict management regime implemented by CCAMLR, the science based authority responsible for controlling commercial fishing in the Ross Sea and Antarctic waters”.

“The certified fishery catches around 3,000 tonnes a year - a very precautionary quota - and has fishery observers on every boat.”

He rejected the claims that numbers were falling for the Alaskan pollock fishery.

“…far from 'tumbling', stocks have rebounded, primarily due to the good management that helped the fishery win its MSC certificate. Based on independent scientific recommendation, the managers set this year's quota at just under 1.3million tonnes - a 15% rise on last year - with future stock levels set to rise much further,” Toby wrote.

The krill fishery is very low impact and catches less than 1% of the total krill stock each year, he added.

“No-one is being 'duped.' MSC certification is a process open to everyone and based on independent, peer-reviewed science.”

Editor's note: If you are interested in the sustainability of fish, please consider signing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight petition. Hugh did a series of programmes on wasteful fishing practices which can be viewed on the 4 on Demand website.


Bill Heaney January 2011


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