Sustainability high on agenda in Brussels
By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
16 April, 2012
In just over a week’s time, more or less anybody who is anybody in the seafood industry will be in Brussels for the 20th edition of the European Seafood Exposition/Seafood Processing Europe. And, as usual, high on the agenda at the world’s biggest seafood exhibition will be the issue of sustainability.
Companies from all over the globe will be at pains to point out that the seafood in their stands has come from renewable resources. The distinctive blue tick logo of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) will be much in evidence, as will the names of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that purport to be safeguarding the contents of our oceans.
But should NGOs be setting the standards for sustainability that the seafood industry has to follow? Not according to Chris Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, one of the world’s top tuna companies. Writing in INFOFISH International, he said there are myriad environmental organizations that “see sustainability as a fund-raising mechanism rather than a social responsibility requirement.”
And herein lies a major problem. What are NGOs really after when they draw up and publicize their sustainability programs? Are there no checks on what they are doing?
NGOs are answerable only to themselves, and presumably their wealthy benefactors, although even this is not always the case. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which helped set up the Marine Stewardship Council, openly states that it decides what “causes” it wants to pursue and then goes to its backers for the money.
The MSC is probably the most visible of the NGOs pushing a sustainability agenda. However, it has suffered a couple of major setbacks this year. In January, eight major Alaska salmon processors decided they didn’t want their MSC certification to be renewed, and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute announced that Alaska salmon didn’t need MSC certification to show that the resource is sustainable.
Last month, North Sea nephrops withdrew from the MSC accreditation process because, according to Iain MacSween, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organization and board member of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group, “The MSC assessment criteria simply do not take into account the reality of the situation for stocks such as this. I firmly believe that the nephrops stock is healthy, a fact supported by the science, and that it is managed in a sustainable way.”
So, MSC accreditation is not the be-all and end-all in deciding that stocks are sustainably fished. But are any other accreditation schemes better? And, more importantly, does the seafood industry need accreditation schemes drawn up by NGOs at all? No one would argue that sustainability is probably the most important aspect of today’s seafood industry, and the statistics about how many stocks are close to collapse make for uncomfortable reading.
But, can fishermen themselves regulate their catches to conserve stocks? Of course, they can, but the evidence is there that they often don’t. Government fisheries agencies tend to have their own political agendas, as shown by the wrangling within the EU and between the EU and its neighbors. So, are the various NGO schemes the only way forward?
Lischewski argued that a partnership between industry, the environmental community and the scientific community is the best option for conserving stocks. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, which has been set up for tuna, has made significant progress in driving an aggressive conservation agenda, he said.
Could such partnerships be achieved for other threatened stocks? It will be interesting to follow the various discussions on sustainability in Brussels.
16 April, 2012