Aquaculture for all

Report backs positive impact of seafood certification

Sustainability +1 more

A comprehensive analysis of the impact of sustainable seafood certification in safeguarding our marine resources has been published by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) today.

The MSC Global Impacts Report 2017 details more than a thousand examples of positive change made by certified fisheries to safeguard fish stocks and marine habitats.

Analysis of stock data from a sample* of certified and non-certified fisheries shows that MSC certified fisheries target healthy or recovering fish stocks. Certified fisheries, overall, target larger populations of fish in the years following certification and, compared to non-certified fisheries, show less variability in the sustainability of target fish stocks.

The findings come ahead of the United Nations (UN) Oceans Conference, which is convening in New York next week to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which calls to conserve and sustainably use the oceans. The MSC report provides governments, industry and NGOs with evidence of credible certification as a powerful tool to catalyse and secure improvements in marine fisheries.

"The MSC program provides both recognition and incentive for responsible ocean stewardship,” said Rupert Howes, MSC’s Chief Executive. “20 years since the creation of the MSC, certified fisheries today account for 12% of global marine catch. MSC certified fisheries are targeting healthy and well managed stocks. They are also safeguarding marine habitats and ecosystems through ongoing commitments to improve their performance.”

MSC’s goal is for 20% of all wild caught seafood to come from fisheries engaged in the MSC program by 2020. The report clearly demonstrates that, with the correct incentives and actions, fisheries can achieve the sustainable performance required to meet SDG 14.

The MSC report shows that 94% of fisheries entering the program have made at least one improvement to achieve or maintain certification, totalling more than 1,200 over the last 16 years. Of these, 117 actions by 39 fisheries contributed to improving habitat status, management and information. In total, MSC certified fisheries have been involved with 46 new scientific research projects as part of efforts to better understand and minimise impacts on habitats.

As an example, the report highlights the Greenland coldwater prawn fishery’s considerable efforts to preserve habitats. The fishery launched a research project with the Zoological Society of London in response to a lack of information on sea floor habitats. This led to the discovery of a rich ecosystem and the trialling of innovative measures to protect sea pens, in addition to the designation of a marine protected area to safeguard important corals and sponges.

“Investing in science and research has been a key part of the MSC’s journey over the past 20 years,” said Dr David Agnew, Science & Standards Director at the MSC. “Fisheries science and management is constantly evolving. That’s why we systematically review and update our Standards to reflect best practice in fisheries science. The revised edition of the MSC Fisheries Standard, released in 2014, features an increase in requirements for habitat protection.”

To date, 18 MSC certified fisheries have changed where and how they fish to minimise damage to seabed habitats, with some implementing voluntary closed areas in order to maintain certification.
Assurance in the supply chain

Ensuring that fisheries are sustainable is only one side of the equation. The MSC requires that certified seafood is traceable from the fishery to the consumer, and checks the integrity of its chain of custody certification system regularly. A 2016 study commissioned by the MSC tested the DNA of fish sold in 122 UK fish and chip shops. The study revealed mislabelling at a rate of just 1.64% in shops with an MSC certificate, compared to over 8% in non-certified shops. Overall DNA testing results since 2009 have shown near negligible (<1%) levels of mislabelling for MSC certified products, compared to a global average of 30%.

More to do

Roughly half of fisheries which complete voluntary pre-assessment to the MSC Fisheries Standard do not progress to full assessment, suggesting that they have work to do to reach the requirements of certification.

The MSC Global Impacts Report maps the location of certified fisheries in large marine ecosystems (LMEs) around the world, showing the proportion of MSC certified fisheries in areas of international importance to biodiversity. The maps reveal a need to support small-scale fisheries, particularly those in developing countries, on the road to sustainability. The MSC is developing new tools and investing in scientific research to support fisheries in achieving MSC certification.

In order for these initiatives to have impact at scale, the MSC encourages the international community meeting at the UN to support market-based incentive mechanisms, including certification, as an essential tool to contribute to realising the SDGs. Consumers can also play their part by choosing seafood with the blue MSC label. World Oceans Day, celebrated on 8 June, provides the opportunity for everyone to get involved.