NOAA seeks comments on sustainable certification

The U.S. seafood industry has one month to submit comments on whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should establish a sustainable seafood label and certification program.

NOAA is considering the establishment of a "sustainably caught in the U.S." type of eco-label for wild fisheries after the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC) finalized its recommendations on such a label in December.

"We haven't decided whether or not to do it. We have several large fishery management councils that requested labeling as part of the Magnuson Stevenson Act," NOAA Fisheries Deputy Administrator Sam Rauch told SeafoodSource.

NOAA is urging all interested parties to submit comments on the recommendations by 30 April to [email protected].

While some fishery management councils want to see a NOAA-administered business-to-business sustainable label, others do not support it. "Some that have certification from labels like MSC [Marine Stewardship Council] are not supportive of a competing government label," Rauch said.

However, the difference between MAFAC recommendations and current sustainable certification schemes is that MAFAC envisions a b-to-b certification and labeling program that would be visible to buyers such as supermarkets — not by consumers. "MAFAC thinks the labels like MSC are much more consumer-focused and meant to talk directly to the consumer," Rauch said.

MAFAC's recommendations include establishing a NOAA sustainable certification program that utilizes the agency's current seafood inspection program and only charges fees to producers and businesses that want to participate. There should not be a charge to taxpayers, according to MAFAC.

NOAA has not yet developed cost models on what the fees would be, Rauch said.

The certification program would focus first on wild-caught seafood from federally-managed waters, and then phase in seafood from state-managed commercial fisheries and aquaculture products.

Rauch is not sure how long it would take NOAA to develop a sustainable certification program, if the majority of commenters support it. "It is hard to determine if there will be support or opposition. We can't give an exact date. We have never done this and, as with any startup, it takes a while to get this up and running."

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