Study questions origin of MSC-certified toothfish


Steven Hedlund

Published on
August 22, 2011

According to a study published in Tuesday’s edition of the journal Current Biology, some Patagonian toothfish bearing the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label does not originate from the certified fishery, while some fish isn’t toothfish at all.

Led by Peter Marko, a population biologist at Clemson University, the study’s authors analyzed mitochondrial DNA from fish purchased at retail outlets in eight states. They found that 8 percent of the 36 eco-labeled fish samples tested were not toothfish, but were other species. Of the fish samples that were toothfish, which is commonly marketed as Chilean sea bass, the genetic data suggested that 15 percent were not from the certified population.

The South Georgia toothfish fishery is the world’s only toothfish fishery that’s MSC-certified; it was initially certified in 2004 and re-certified in 2009.

“There is no question that organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council are trying their best to guide consumers to sustainably harvested seafood, but it is currently difficult to guarantee the geographic origins of fish,” Marko told the Summit County Citizens Voice, which is based in Colorado.

In a posting on, which also reported on the study, Amy Jackson, the MSC’s deputy standards director, responded that the MSC is “very concerned” about the study’s results.

“We regularly commission DNA testing as part of our commitment to ensuring robust and credible chain of custody certification,” she said. “In late 2008 and early 2009, we collected samples of South Georgian toothfish. In June 2009, we received the results that confirmed that all labeled products tested had come from the MSC-certified fishery operating out of Area 48.3.”

Jackson noted that the fish samples for the study were collected three years ago, prior to its own survey.

“We have already approached the authors to share their specific product information with us as there was no sampling information included,” she said. “Once we have conducted a full review of the products reported as mislabeled, we will publish the outcome of our investigation and provide information relating to actions the MSC has taken should any breaches of our chain of custody requirements have occurred. In addition, we will continue to work on our DNA testing program, including the routine analysis of South Georgia toothfish samples, where we feel that more background population data is needed to enable all of these results to be placed into context.”

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