MSC chain-of-custody links in line
By James Wright, SeaFood Business senior editor
15 November, 2011
Because environmental-stewardship certification for seafood comes at a cost, I had wondered whether the stagnant global economy and the belt-tightening marketplace were eroding the desire or willingness to pay for such product designations. I had also assumed that low consumer awareness of sustainable seafood, at least in the United States, would also dampen the incentive for seeking and paying for certification — not for fisheries themselves but for the points in the supply chain wanting to trade seafood bearing an eco-label.
This was the mindset I started out with in writing “Never Break the Chain,” the Top Story for the November issue of SeaFood Business. The general term “eco-label” is thrown about, but this story is about the Marine Stewardship Council, the London-based nonprofit that tends to stir up emotional responses within the industry over what its role is and what it should be. MSC is the market leader in sustainability certification for wild fisheries, of which there are currently 264 engaged in the process, 134 of which are already certified.
Certainly there had to be some resistance in the market, I figured, but MSC-certified retailers and restaurateurs that I connected with are on board with the methods and the message. Cid Backer of Cid’s Food Market in Taos, N.M., says few customers are familiar with sustainable seafood walking through his doors. But the meaning behind MSC ties in well with his store’s mission to serve whole, organic foods and proteins raised without hormones. “It’s a slow process,” he admits, of getting folks in the desert to respond to sustainable seafood and how their purchases can make a difference.
Kristofor Lofgren, owner of Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Ore., says integrating the MSC logo in his marketing has bumped up business by a good 20 percent. He’s due to open the second Bamboo Sushi in town pretty soon, and the MSC relationship figures into his plans, although he says he can “understand why some have aversions to it.” The growth of Bamboo Sushi, which has earned multiple certifications for various aspects of its business practices, will be exciting to watch.
I wasn’t able to include comments before deadline from online retailer, Fresh Direct of Long Island City, N.Y., which delivers groceries to the New York City tri-state area. Seafood category manager Jeff Ludwin says MSC certification adds “legitimacy” to his program, but that sourcing MSC-certified seafood can pose challenges. Some of the smaller producers he’s dealt with in the past can’t afford certification, even though they harvest from MSC-certified fisheries. “If I want to say it’s MSC-certified, I have to deal with certified vendors,” Ludwin said. “The chain can’t be broken.”
Kerry Coughlin, MSC regional director-North America, knows the nonprofit organization is a lightning rod for criticism, and that cost is a concern for every business. But she’s confident that the transparent scientific process refined over the past decade-plus will see MSC through challenges. The market distinction the MSC logo provides — even during a recession — will do the same for MSC supply-chain certificate holders, which she adds are steadily growing in numbers.
This article has only been out for a few days and I’ve already heard from a few readers who question some of the MSC’s fishery-certification criteria and from others who wonder whether it’s “about the fish, or about the money.”
That some of the more vocal MSC critics themselves are part of its supply-chain membership says a lot about the eco-label’s power and influence. If MSC decides to spend some energy on consumer education, like Coughlin alludes to in the story, its list of allies might grow even larger.
15 November, 2011