US senators, fishing industry level criticism at MSC for continued presence in Russia

"Vast quantities of Russian seafood are now reaching global markets behind the reassuring veneer of the MSC eco-label."
A Russian pollock fishing vessel operating in the Arctic
U.S. senators and members of the fishing industry are criticizing the Marine Stewardship Council's continued certification of the Russian fishing industry | Photo courtesy of the Russian Pollock Catchers Association
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U.S. senators and key figures in the U.S. seafood industry are criticizing the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) decision to continue allowing Russian fisheries – particularly Russian pollock – to keep their certifications in the face of economic sanctions.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the MSC announced it planned to continue to certify Russian pollock so long as it followed through on a plan to conduct more sustainable fishing. Other areas of the Russian pollock industry would go on to gain further MSC certification, but the MSC added at the time that the ongoing war would impact its certification of Russian fisheries, as some assurance providers' work in the country became difficult. 

Over two years later, as the war is still ongoing, U.S. senators and prominent figures in the U.S. pollock industry have been increasing their scrutiny of the MSC and its continued certification of Russia’s industry. 

Four U.S. senators – Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Angus King (I-Maine) – wrote a joint letter to MSC CEO Rupert Howes, calling on the organization to oust Russian seafood from the program. 

“We urge you to move expeditiously to prohibit the continued use of the MSC label for all Russian-harvested seafood,” the letter states.

The four senators said that the U.S.’s move to expand sanctions against Russian seafood products in December 2023, coupled with similar increased scrutiny by the European Council, are in “stark contrast” with the MSC’s continued certification of Russian seafood products.

“Indeed, your organization responded to the invasion of Ukraine not only by maintaining existing certifications in Russia but also by taking extraordinary steps to complete new certifications of major additional Russian fisheries,” the letter states. “As a result, vast quantities of Russian seafood are now reaching global markets behind the reassuring veneer of the MSC eco-label. Your organization is bringing undue credibility and value to Russian seafood products and simultaneously allowing Russia to funnel funds toward its horrific actions in Ukraine.”

Sullivan, in particular, has made these types of complaints before, originally calling for the U.S. to issue a total ban on Russian seafood imports in 2022. He also pushed for Russian seafood to be mentioned in a Group of Seven (G7) “Communiqué” that criticized the country’s trade practices. That statement ultimately called out Russia’s “environmentally unsustainable and unfair trading practices regarding fish and seafood products.”

“Sullivan envisions the G7 statement as a major first step toward America’s allies implementing comprehensive sanctions on Russian seafood imports, in light of Russia’s unfair seafood trade practices and brutal invasion of Ukraine,” Sullivan’s press office said, adding that he worked “relentlessly” to see the language included in the G7 statement to help the Alaska fishing industry.

Members of the Alaska pollock industry are also criticizing the MSC’s continued presence in Russia. American Seafoods CEO Einar Gustafsson confirmed with SeafoodSource that he met with U.S. officials to discuss the issues the industry has been facing and to advocate for the Alaskan pollock industry. 

Gustafsson said that the MSC has “lost sight of ...

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