Chain-of-custody sustainability worth the price?


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
November 14, 2011

The seafood industry deserves credit for addressing sustainability, a challenging and complex concept for even scientists to define. Through outreach and education, the many links in the intricate global seafood supply chain — producers, suppliers, distributors and retail and foodservice buyers — have altered practices and marketed messages of conscience and conservation, emphasizing a mindfulness of their businesses’ impact on the oceans. For some, a deep commitment to sustainability has been a boon; for others, meeting strict sourcing criteria remains a burden.

Any business that wishes to showcase its environmental stewardship with seafood knows it must walk the talk and provide proof; anyone can say they’re sustainable. Eco-labels, like the market-leading and influential Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) logo, are one avenue. All products certified sustainable by the London-based nonprofit organization come from fisheries that have passed third-party evaluations for responsible management. There are scores of other eco-labels for both wild and farmed seafood, but none has the global reach and recognition of MSC, with about a decade’s worth of growing pains and success stories to show for it.

Of course it ain’t easy, or cheap, being green. Use of the MSC logo throughout the supply chain comes at a cost that goes beyond licensing fees and royalties. Implementing a traceability system for something like seafood, which comes from all corners of the globe, takes extraordinary time and effort. An independent review of your business as a key link in the sustainable seafood supply chain costs money (paid to a third-party certifier, not MSC or, for farmed seafood, the nascent Aquaculture Stewardship Council) and can reveal other areas needing improvements.

And for any seafood marketed with the MSC eco-label, companies must pay MSC 0.5 percent of the wholesale value. The fee for seafood that arrives at stores in final, consumer-ready packaging such as cans, pouches and boxes of frozen product, is paid by the supplier or the company applying the logo.

There are risks and rewards with eco-labels, which are not one-size-fits-all. What they require, above all else, is a long-term vision and an eager market that will justify the investment.

Click here to read the rest of the feature on chain-of-custody certification, which ran on the cover of the November issue of SeaFood Business magazine. 

Click here to read SeaFood Business’ Associate Editor James Wright’s commentary on the subject. 

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