Advisory panel: MSC not the only option

Members of an advisory panel assembled to develop a sustainable seafood certification and labeling program for California are urging the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to explore alternatives to the Marine Stewardship Council.

Under development by the OPC, the legislation was intended to set aside state money to provide grants and loans for fisheries to obtain sustainability certification. But some panel members don’t believe that the OPC is giving alternative certification schemes a fair shot.

“I don’t want it to sound like it’s some kind of conspiracy. Honestly, you can understand why the MSC is the obvious and easy choice. Nothing has the perceived scope of the MSC program. But it’s important for the OPC to recognize other options,” said panel member Dave Anderson, a marine biologist with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif..

Anderson and other panel members in late November submitted a report to the OPC outlining alternative options to MSC certification, including the standards set forth by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

“In meetings we have talked about different ways to do it. In the end, those considerations were not as heavily weighted as the original obvious choice of the MSC,” said Anderson. “[FAO-based standards] are not as well known and widely used, but in a sense they are the true international standards. The trick is that they’re not written as certification standards.”

Alaska, Hawaii and Iceland are all using the FAO standards. The standards come from the FAO code of conduct for responsible fisheries and have been translated into a checklist and subsequently a number of “fairly brief and straightforward” questionnaires to be used as a tool to assess fisheries, explained Anderson.

Using the FAO guidelines would also cut back on assessment costs, by eliminating the pre-assessment phase required by the MSC.

The money saved could be directed toward other program efforts, such as marketing, which Anderson said is needed to make consumers more aware of local seafood options, like rockfish and spiny lobster, instead of the familiar tuna, salmon and shrimp.

“Here in California it’s especially important to endorse and promote local seafood. We have amazing fisheries in the U.S., but people don’t eat local seafood. We import 80 percent of the seafood we eat. It’s a trap we’ve gotten into. Consumers are looking for seafood they’re familiar with and distributors provide it,” said Anderson.

“One of the key things in the whole process of a program like this is that once you can teach consumers to look for local seafood and recognize and understand the value, you can use that to improve fisheries practices, because it becomes incentive for fishermen,” he added.

The advisory panel will bring the final protocol to the OPC in February. It’s currently available for public comment.

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