New MSC US Program Director Nicole Condon: US must lead on seafood sustainability
On Thursday, 28 June, Nicole Condon was named Marine Stewardship Council’s U.S. program director, replacing Eric Critchlow, who is retiring after a 48-year career in the seafood industry. Condon, who will begin in her new role 1 August, will oversee MSC’s fisheries, commercial, marketing, and communications strategies in the United States.
Condon joined MSC in 2018 as a senior commercial manager, overseeing engagement with MSC-certified companies and market development along the supply chain in the Eastern U.S. Condon will aim to advance MSC’s goal of having one third of global wild marine catch certified to its standard or engaged in its sustainable fishing program by 2030. Previously, she served on World Wildlife Fund’s Global Seafood Markets team, where she developed sustainable seafood strategies with global companies and built collaborative industry platforms in key global markets.
In an interview with SeafoodSource, Condon said she wants to work to have the U.S. play a vital role in the sustainable movement.
SeafoodSource: Why did you pursue this position? What about this job is something that excites you?
Condon: The conversation around sustainable seafood and its impacts – more-resilient fisheries, ecosystems, communities, and food supply – have only continued to increase over the past 25 years. We expect a lot of the average consumer when it comes to understanding sustainability and how to choose a seafood item that meets their values and their needs. The MSC blue fish label provides a simple trust mark that is backed by immense credibility and a science-based, third-party, multistakeholder approach. I’m excited to be leading the work with the MSC in such an important region. As a major importer and exporter of seafood, the U.S. market plays a vital role in the success of the sustainable seafood movement at both a regional and global scale. This is such a crucial time to keep the momentum going and to find new and exciting ways to drive progress with our partners for a healthy ocean.
SeafoodSource: What about your past experiences has helped prepare you for this position?
Condon: I’m coming into this role with a foundation in marine science and sustainability management. I’ve worked on the water with commercial fisheries, conducted research along every coast of the U.S., built regional and global nonprofit programs in partnership with industry focused on seafood sustainability and traceability, helped companies build seafood sourcing policies from the ground up, and worked with companies at every point of the seafood supply chain. I have been focused on finding solutions for our ocean ecosystems for as long as I can remember. In such a cluttered field of sustainability initiatives, it is fantastic to work for an organization with a clear mission and an impactful set of tools that produce measurable impacts.
SeafoodSource: How do MSC’s efforts in the U.S. connect with its efforts elsewhere in the world, and globally? How do they differ?
Condon: The MSC is a global organization employing people across 18 offices around the world, and critically engages a wide range of stakeholders with diverse perspectives. It is important that we have standards and a framework for ways of working that can be effectively implemented in markets all around the world. Having said that, the U.S. market does have some differences to other markets. For example, some areas of Europe have consumers and businesses that have been engaged in the sustainability conversation for much longer and have a higher awareness of the MSC and its mission. I look forward to working with the U.S. team, as well as with NGOs and stakeholders in the seafood sustainability space, on continuing to grow engagement in the U.S. market.
SeafoodSource: What opportunities do you see for MSC to advance its mission in the U.S.?
Condon: The potential for the U.S. market is immense, building upon all of our success to-date. We are currently working through the process of looking at the future of the MSC and how we will continue to drive impact in the regions. Part of that is working toward a 2030 ambition of having 30 percent of global wild seafood catch certified or engaged in the MSC sustainable fishing program. The U.S. has an important part to play in meeting that goal and I believe we’re up to the challenge.
SeafoodSource: In your opinion, how committed is the U.S. seafood sector to sustainability?
Condon: The conversation on seafood sustainability, and sustainability more broadly, has changed drastically over the years. The sector is beginning to understand that “sustainability” isn’t just a buzzword or a market differentiator, it’s something that will help to ensure the long-term viability of an important source of food, jobs, and ultimately a healthy ocean. There is a growing commitment to sustainability in U.S. companies across the board, and it has been exciting to see some of the innovation driving improvements and collaboration to make measurable impacts.
SeafoodSource: It seems like there has been a general strategy from MSC to focus on the retail sector to push for sustainability-minded reforms in buying policies and chain of custody requirements for sustainable product. Do you feel like that strategy has been successful and will you continue to pursue it moving forward?
Condon: The MSC program is a market-based program that can deliver social and economic benefits to seafood industry partners, providing an incentive for environmental outcomes – that’s the foundation of our theory of change. Retailers play a critical role as a major connector to consumers, and we see both playing an important role in the demand for sustainability. But it requires dedication from all parts of the supply chain, not just retailers.
SeafoodSource: There seems to be a disconnect between what Americans say they want regarding the sustainability credentials of the seafood they buy and what they actually end up purchasing at the grocery store. Why is that and how do you aim to bridge that gap?
Condon: Consumers want sustainable, traceable, credible third-party claims on their seafood products. MSC’s recent consumer survey showed that more seafood consumers than ever believe their choices can make a difference to the health of the ocean and are willing to change their shopping habits as a result. That’s where the intent versus action gap comes into play, especially in this day and age, when their dollar is even more precious to them right now. We need to provide easy-to-understand and credible guidance to help consumers shop their values when choices are now even harder to make. The MSC blue fish logo is an easy scan indicator that consumers can trust. We are working to drive consumer demand and awareness by messaging the important impacts of sustainable fishing, how it contributes to ocean health, and how consumers can make choices that are good for them and good for the planet by simply looking for the MSC blue fish label.
SeafoodSource: Are you pursuing or will you deepen any collaborations or partnerships with other certification bodies or sustainability-focused entities in the seafood industry?
Condon: The MSC’s mission to end overfishing is an important goal that we certainly cannot accomplish on our own. Whether through strengthening of direct relationships or continued involvement in collective action through organizations such as the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions or the Certifications and Ratings Collaboration, we know that it is critical to our success and the success of the overall mission that we foster these relationships and continue to find better ways of working together. I am looking forward to the opportunity to help strengthen these relationships in the U.S. in my new role.
SeafoodSource: MSC has been the focus of some criticism from several U.S. NGOs that have alleged the organization sets the bar too low in regard to its standard when it comes to sustainability. Do you agree with that criticism, or do you reject it?
Condon: The MSC continues to set the highest bar for environmental sustainability in the seafood certification space, and our theory of change driven by market demand for more sustainable options that are backed by science, assurances, and credibility has proven successful. I think we have successfully navigated a balance between those that want a higher bar and some of the realities of implementing these changes on the ground.
We just released our revised fisheries standard, which is a great example of the considerations for that balance while still critically raising the bar. We absolutely need and want NGOs to continue to push for improvements. We also need to carefully consider what is appropriate for the MSC to cover and how much and how fast the industry can move to meet necessary changes. The MSC is constantly evolving, but as a voluntary program we also try not to leave companies and fisheries behind in the process. Improvements at a global scale are only effective if the majority stays on board and are committed to change.
Photo courtesy of Marine Stewardship Council