MSC to revise assessment process following criticism from environmental groups

An international non-government organization that monitors fisheries for sustainable practices announced earlier this week is will bolster its certification processes amid criticism from advocates who claim the group has not lived up to its mission.

Later this year, the Marine Stewardship Council will review its Fisheries Standard certification process as part of the organization’s ongoing commitment to observe best practices in fishery management. This includes a more efficient assessment process the MSC announced it will unveil in August. 

The MSC announcement came just shortly before a group of more than 60 environmental organizations and individual advocates wrote an open letter to the council detailing concerns about the certification process. Specifically, the letter states the MSC has certified fisheries known to commit overfishing, catch endangered species and use catch methods that go against sustainable practices. 

Signatories on the letter include representatives from Greenpeace International, Fair Fish, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

“Given that the MSC recently celebrated 20 years of work and announced ambitious goals to expand the number of certified fisheries and products in the program to include 20 percent of global fisheries catch by 2020, it is imperative that the MSC maintains credibility with key stakeholders – the international conservation community of organizations, researchers, and scientists – as well as with retailers and consumers worldwide,” the letter stated.

Others chimed in as well. John Tanzer, oceans leader for WWF International, said in a statement he was pleased the MSC understands the need for revising its processes and reiterated that the WWF will work with the council on those reforms. 

“The MSC must move swiftly to fully address long-standing concerns about the program’s ability to deliver on its vision for sustainability,” he said. “WWF believes that addressing these concerns is essential for the MSC to maintain its leadership role in wild-caught fishery certification and to help tackle some of the urgent issues facing our oceans.”

In its statement released on 24 January, the MSC announced measures aimed at answering some of those concerns. For example, when the new requirements are released in August, it will mandate that vessels must use only certified gear and catch methods. Previously, the council allowed boats to catch fish from the same stock using a variety of methods, certified or not.

Also, the council announced it will increase its labor requirements with a focus on addressing child labor and servitude.

The council said ideas about what’s sustainable may vary among stakeholders. However, the MSC said it understands the need for groups to have confidence in its certification process and that it would work to address any issues, real or perceived.

“The MSC is a listening organization and works hard to understand and meet evolving expectations of sustainability, while maintaining a program that is also practical, accessible and science-based,” the organization said in its announcement.

The council itself does not certify fisheries. Certification assessments are carried out by independent third-party firms. Later this year, the MSC will initiate a “roundtable dialogue” to identify where improvements can be made.


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