Leaked WWF report levels harsh criticism of MSC

A leaked report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) describes “troubling, systemic flaws” within the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme, casting doubt on the integrity of a program trusted by millions of seafood consumers around the world to identify fisheries that are sustainable and well-managed.

The WWF, which helped found MSC 20 years ago, identified a conflict of interest in MSC’s scheme, which charges a licensing fee of 0.5 percent of wholesale value to companies that use its logo to identify their products as originating from an MSC-certified fishery.

“Circumstantial evidence is accumulating that this creates a conflict with MSC’s role as an independent and impartial standard-setting body,” WWF wrote in the report, which was leaked to the Times of London newspaper.

There are now more than 23,000 products with the MSC ecolabel on sale to consumers in nearly 100 countries, according to the MSC. Revenue from licensing fees on those products amounted to GBP 11 million (USD 14 million, EUR 13 million) in revenue in the last fiscal year – approximately 73 percent of the organization’s total income.

MSC has “aggressively pursued global scale growth” and in recent years “has begun to reap very large sums from the fishing industry,” the WWF wrote regarding MSC.

In addition, MSC has used “questionable practices” that have weakened rules meant to prevent overfishing, potentially making it easier for unsustainable fisheries to gain certification, the report noted.

MSC Science and Standards Director David Agnew denied to the Times any conflict of interest with his organization’s logo licensing or financial model.

“The MSC has a valued and longstanding partnership with WWF. We’re disappointed by the unsubstantiated claims made by this paper and find them at odds with WWF’s global engagement and work with the MSC,” he said.

On 28 November, MSC added a letter to its website addressing the issue, and in a statement posted on its website, WWF said the report was "a draft version of an internal document."

"WWF is continually seeking improvements in fisheries and the role fishing plays in the overall health of the ocean. To this end WWF and MSC share a common vision for healthy, productive oceans, which we pursue through different, but complementary efforts," the statement said. "Like any working version of a draft document, this paper was not meant to be the official expression of WWF’s opinion, nor was it fair to characterize it as such. "While the document was inappropriately distributed, it reflects WWF’s understanding of ongoing challenges in tuna fisheries certification in the Indian Ocean over the past five years. Elements of the paper are part of an ongoing dialogue that we are having with the MSC to drive positive change in the marine environment and bring us all closer to effective conservation and sustainability. WWF believes that the MSC is the best seafood certification scheme available. We remain committed to working alongside MSC to eliminate unsustainable and destructive fishing practices."


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