Exporter: MSC has to cut fees, focus on economics, ecology

More fishermen are likely to say no to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labeling unless the certification body reduces fees and also puts equal emphasis on economic and social sustainability. That’s according to a representative of a major Belgian fish exporter, who also called for retailers and the foodservice industry to pay their share of certification costs.

Retailers are keen to have MSC product “but they don’t want to pay for it, they want you to pay for it,” said Philippe Moriau, managing director of Belgium Direct, an exporter of Belgian flatfish sourced from a group of Belgian fishermen. He wants retailers and hotels to pay a premium for MSC-certified product that would cover the expense of certification.

He thinks MSC is a “good idea in principle” because it promotes environmental sustainability and traceability — but it’s outside the reach of many fishermen, said Moriau. The eleven-vessel group he represents was unable to afford the cost of MSC certification, he said. The MSC certification process, he said, puts too much emphasis on ecological and not enough on socio-economic sustainability criteria. “If you’re scoring ten out of ten on economic sustainability and zero on social and economic sustainability [of a fishery] then it’s still a crap score.”

To improve the economic and social sustainability fishing enterprises like his have to move up the value chain to survive, said Moriau.

He claims fishermen get as little as EUR 0.80 (USD 1.03) out of the eventual retail price of EUR 12 (USD 15.47) per kilogram fetched for fish caught by his group. Hence his group has added processing facilities in order to take more of the margin. Likewise the fishermen hope to “cut out the middlemen” and take more of the margin made in distribution. “Everyone is taking a comfortable margin, except the fishermen…this is the only way we can survive,” he said.

He’s not advocating getting rid of MSC said Moriau, but wants it changed so it’s less expensive and less focused exclusively on ecological criteria. Moriau spoke to SeafoodSource at the recent Asia Seafood Expo in Hong Kong. Also at the expo was MSC’s chief Asia executive, Kelvin Ng. He defends MSC pricing.

“I think we have to weigh the cost v’s the benefits and not view the cost in isolation. As a market based program, the MSC seeks to generate benefits for all its partners, especially MSC certified sustainable fisheries…Feedback from certified fisheries demonstrates that there are many incentives to join the program, from advantages in the market place to improved traceability.” Ng said.

“The bulk of the cost is paid to the third party certification assessment body for their time cost to audit the fisheries against the MSC Standards. As part of the current Fisheries Standards Review, we have also conducted a speed and cost review to make changes to ensure that the assessment process can be as efficient as possible, whilst maintaining high levels of scientific credibility.”


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