By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 14 October, 2013
SeafoodSource recently caught up with Toby Middleton, senior country manager for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), after his presentation on sustainable seafood marketing challenges at the Humber Seafood Summit. Middleton addressed concerns over Alaskan salmon certification and the mackerel fishing suspension, and explains how sustainable seafood suppliers and retailers can better promote their products.
Blank: What are the primary challenges MSC is experiencing with the growth of sustainable seafood?
Middleton: Seafood sustainability is a long-game issue, so retaining key fisheries to the market is a challenge. We face ecological issues with mackerel and commercial issues with salmon. We need to continue to make the issue for fisheries to stay committed to the program.
Has there been any progress on the mackerel issue?
Everybody is an observer state. The mackerel fisheries are suspended at the moment, since the coastal states were not able to reach an agreement. Pending ICES’ (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) advice, we are in the same position as the last two seasons: whether the coastal states can reach an agreement on the quota. Then, the certification bodies will interpret that…and decide whether the suspension will be lifted.
How are global foodservice and retail buyers reacting to the Alaska salmon controversy?
I can’t speak for buyers. As a voluntary, market-based program, the interest from different organizations around the world to develop certification of their own is being positioned as an “either or” issue, instead of an “as well as” issue. It is disappointing that salmon has positioned itself as one or the other. The [seafood] industry is looking for a consistent global solution that is something they can convey in a clear way to consumers through the supply chain.
Highlighting seafood that comes from a particular region is important, and being able to do that on a global scale is a challenge. Frustration exists in supply chains across the board. There are initiatives like GSSI (Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative) out there. It is up for the market to decide the best route for them, and we put ourselves into the mix for that.
What is one of the examples of MSC’s progress in recent months?
We are increasingly working with a wider range of fisheries. One example is in the U.K., with our partnership with Seafish on Project Inshore. Every fishery in English waters is being pre-assessed. We are looking at the fisheries — including the small scale and very fragment fisheries — individually. By doing all that in one go, we are bringing those 450 fisheries forward in one mass.
You spoke at the Humber Seafood Summit about sustainable seafood marketing. What is lacking in retailers’ promotions of sustainable seafood?
In stores, we don’t see the same level of communication [about sustainable seafood] that we see about other issues, such as climate change, fair trade and carbon neutral products. Ultimately, the investments we are making in sustainable seafood are sitting on balance sheets. We are not articulating to people about the products they are taking home to their families.
How can sustainable seafood suppliers better communicate about their products?
They can use traditional media, trade press, the mainstream press, and lifestyle and personal interest media channels. Some consumers will be green advocates who lead the agenda, and will go to specialist platforms and web sites that lend to their environmental interests. It’s also about having an integrated communication strategy that starts at the in-store level: an intellectual place to engage with shoppers. It’s about discussing ecological issues, having recipe solutions, and having celebrity chefs articulate their examples. Maybe there are different messages that you would push through an e-newsletter.