Prestige Oysters backs US fishery for full MSC assessment

Published on
February 28, 2019

A full assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council’s Fisheries Standard is underway for oysters harvest in Louisiana and Texas by seafood supplier Prestige Oysters, the company announced on 27 February. 

The assessment will be conducted by MRAG Americas – an independent, third-party accredited certification body – and will score the oyster fishery on the health of the target stock, impacts on the marine environment, and fishery management. 

The oyster fishery, which produces American cupped oysters (Crassostrea virginica) native to Texas and Louisiana waters, is the first of its kind in the United States to enter MSC assessment; if the assessment is a success, it will be the only MSC-certified oyster fishery in all of the Americas, according to Prestige Oysters. The company expects to hear back about the assessment in fall of 2019, it said in a press release. 

The decision to pursue MSC assessment was driven, in part, by a desire to back up the sustainability work fundamental to the fishery and Prestige as a business, said Raz Halili, the general manager of the Dickinson, Texas-based company.

“I wanted something to show proof to what we’re doing and, in search of that, I came across MSC and it hit all the marks for me to show our customers that we’re meeting the highest standards possible,” Halili told SeafoodSource.

It’s an ideal time to try for the MSC’s sustainability mark, what with customers becoming increasingly more interested in assurances for their seafood, Halili added.

“At a time more than ever, customers want to know how their seafood is harvested,” Halili said in a prepared statement. “The MSC provides customers with comfort and assurance that the fishery is consistently monitored and is operating sustainably. Prestige Oysters is ready to put our fishery up against the rigorous standards of MSC. For over two decades, our company has committed to investing and building oyster reefs creating our wild oyster fishery. At Prestige Oysters, we’re extremely proud to be the first oyster fishery to enter MSC full assessment in the United States. I'm confident in our fishery’s abilities to meet certification. MSC certification is important not only to us but also our supply chain to ensure the highest standards are met.”

Oysters from the fishery are obtained using boat dredges on private leases, some of which encompass oyster reefs that are either natural or constructed from deposition of cultch – a mixture of “oyster shell, limestone, concrete, etc.” according Halili and Prestige. Cultch deposits and natural oyster growth supported by the fishery help keep the reefs intact, and have minimal impact on the marine environment, the company said.

Reef preservation is a particular point of pride for Prestige, Halili noted. 

“We take a lot of pride in building our reefs, and it’s something we like to share. Post BP oil spill, we’ve set out over 400 million pounds of cultch,” which translates into an over a USD 10 million (EUR 8.8 million) investment, he said.   

The importance of oysters as a commercial species within the seafood and ocean sustainability paradigms is not lost on Brian Perkins, the MSC’s regional director for the Americas. 

“Oysters are an important commercial species as well as play a significant role in the marine ecosystem. If the fishery achieves certification, it will be validation of the fishery’s hard work to harvest oysters sustainably,” Perkins said of Prestige and the Gulf oyster fishery’s MSC bid. 

Established in 1997, the MSC Fisheries Standard is a wild-caught seafood standard and ecolabeling program that meets both the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) guidelines as well as the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (GSSI) benchmarking criteria.

A family-run business, the story behind Prestige Oysters has all the makings of the coveted “American Dream,” Halili said – and one with sustainable values, at that.  

“It’s sort of the American dream – an immigrant coming over and learning a new trade, starting as a deck hand and moving up to captain, and now owner of one of the largest oyster companies in the country – it’s a great story and customers are always drawn towards that,” Halili said, referring to his father Johnny Halili’s journey in founding Prestige when he migrated to the United States from Albania in the 1970s. CEO Johnny, his wife Lisa, and Raz Halili are currently at the helm of Prestige’s operations. 

The company has two full-time processing plants and provides market for over 100 boats stretching from Texas and Louisiana, up to Maryland, according to its website.

Image courtesy of the Prestige Oysters website

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