Constant Sustainability Buzz Dilutes Message

I never thought I'd reach the point where I'd say, "enough is enough" with regard to seafood sustainability. Well, I'm there. And before you get the wrong idea, I fully support sustainability. Not harvesting more fish stocks than can replenish themselves in an adequate amount of time makes sense. Minimizing the impact on the environment is important. And considering the socioeconomic factors of seafood harvesting and processing also is key. But at what point does the sustainability message get diluted?

I've grown increasingly skeptical of the amount of sustainability claims in the market recently. Almost every new product release touts sustainability, whether the claim has been accredited by an organization like the Marine Stewardship Council or not. All U.S. fisheries claim some degree of sustainability because they follow strict harvest guidelines geared toward sustainability as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. But does that mean every U.S. fishery can label its product sustainable? Some companies seem to think so.

If buyers truly want to verify a product's sustainability, then start asking your supplier for certification or do your own research. This can be as simple as jumping on a boat or visiting a fish farm and watching how they operate. Nothing beats verifying the harvesting and processing methods first-hand, and you're able to decide what's sustainable and what's not.

And if visiting a farm or going out on a boat is unrealistic, there's even a new group to help seafood businesses make sustainability decisions - the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions. The group, an amalgamation of 14 U.S. and Canadian conservationists, has released a set of recommendations to help companies develop and implement a sustainable seafood purchasing policy. Read today's news story, "Green Groups Release 'Common Vision' for Sustainable Seafood."

I suppose it was only a matter of time before all of these groups united under one umbrella group. One message is certainly better than 14 competing messages saturating the market. But I hardly believe this new group means a reduction in the amount of work for seafood buyers with regard to verifying sustainability claims. As with anything else, it's "buyer beware."

If sustainability saturation in the trade press and mainstream media is what it takes to further the "greening" of the seafood industry, then so be it. But fair warning to buyers who see a sustainability claim on every product put before them, it may behoove you to dig a little deeper.

Best regards,
Fiona Robinson
Editor in Chief
SeaFood Business


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