With the omnipresence of content surrounding the future and uncertainty our ocean’s health, it can be easy to feel powerless and think our actions and choices have little or no impact. However, there are solutions to these problems, and it’s our daily choices that will make a difference and change the world. You can start simply by choosing sustainable seafood.
The Marine Stewardship Council, a non-profit whose mission is to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, is leading the way and making it easier for consumers to choose sustainable seafood. I had a chance to talk to Dr. Adrian Gutteridge, a shark biologist and Fisheries Assessment Manager for tuna, as well as Charlotte Connell, the Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) offices in Australia, who both believe the power is in the hands of the consumer.
Population growth and an increase in fish consumption, amongst other problems, has led to the potential of overfishing. Coastal fisheries have declined 50 percent in the past 30 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. How does MSC work to restore fish stock and certify sustainable fisheries? What do you mean by sustainable fishing practices?
Charlotte: Seafood is the most consumed animal protein in the world, the most traded commodity in the world; ten times more than coffee, so the potential to have a positive impact in this space is monumental. The seafood industry also supports more than 500 million livelihoods, and with more than 50 percent of the world’s seafood coming from developing countries, these are jobs we need to protect. By choosing and demanding sustainable seafood you’re creating incentives for more fisheries to become sustainable, ensuring the ocean stays healthy and jobs are secured. But how do you select sustainable seafood? MSC makes it easy with our blue eco-label.
Adrian: The MSC has developed a standard for sustainable fisheries, which covers three key principles: for the target stock to be healthy, that there is minimal impact on the wider environment and ecosystem, and that there is effective management in place to ensure future sustainability. Any wild capture fishery can enter the MSC program to be assessed against the standard. These assessments occur by independent scientific experts who audit the fishery in relation to various performance indicators within the MSC standard. Also, the MSC has developed a “Chain of Custody” standard that establishes traceability within the supply chain upon a fishery becoming certified. This is highly important, as a fully traceable supply chain removes the risk of illegal, unregulated, and unreported catch being mixed with certified catches.
The MSC’s vision is for the world’s oceans, which is teeming with life and seafood supplies, to be safeguarded for this and future generations. Our mission is to use our ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.
What species have been certified? What about those endangered?
Adrian: A strength of the MSC program is that any wild capture fishery can voluntarily enter assessment to achieve certification. As such, there is a large variety of species that can carry the MSC eco-label, including benthic fishes, such as halibut; small pelagic fishes, such as mackerel; highly migratory and iconic species, such as tuna and salmon; and invertebrate species, such as scallops and lobster.
In terms of endangered species, their population is usually in decline or reduced to a state where harvesting would cause detrimental affects to their population. Within the MSC standard, species such as this would not carry the eco-label, but would be assessed as an Endangered, Threatened, and Protected (ETP) species. Fisheries need to demonstrate that if they interact with ETP species, they do not hinder their recovery and they have measures in place to minimize and limit the impact on these species.
With climate change expected to impact agricultural production, people are going to rely more than ever on fish for their nutritional needs. How do certified fisheries expect to supply an increasing demand and still remain sustainable?
Adrian: MSC certification lasts for five years, and each fishery is audited on an annual basis during this five-year certification. Each annual audit looks at changes in the fishery that may have occurred and tracks conditions that were given to the fishery upon certification. As long as the fishery continues to operate in a way that meets the MSC standard, and adheres to the original certification, the supply of seafood from that fishery can increase over time.
Spreading the word about sustainable solutions is one of the biggest challenges for NGOs worldwide. How does the MSC work to inform consumers about the eco-label?
Charlotte: We try to engage people with the positive solutions to healthy oceans. By simply enjoying this delicious sustainable seafood dish over this other seafood dish, you’re helping to make a positive difference to our oceans. We encourage everyone to go out there and try MSC certified sustainable seafood every year around Sustainable Seafood Day, which is March 18, 2016. We also work with seafood brands, retailers, and businesses to source and sell MSC certified seafood to consumers.
How important is it to choose certified products over non-certified? How can we make a difference as consumers?
Charlotte: It’s so incredibly important and empowering. We all love the ocean and do our bit to keep it healthy. I try to surf every day. And every day I visit the beach, I pick up what rubbish I see. But when I’m not near the sea, it’s my seafood choices that can help keep the oceans healthy. I choose MSC certified seafood because not only do I know it’s sourced from a sustainable fishery, but I know that it is completely traceable and not substituted with any other non-certified seafood. And when I can’t find MSC certified seafood I make sure I know what the species is, how it was caught, and where it was caught before making a decision. MSC isn’t the only measure of sustainability, but it does make it very easy to identify environmentally friendly choices.
In conclusion, more than a billion people rely on the seafood as their main source of protein, and most of those people are from developing countries. However, it’s not a matter of simply not eating seafood. Rather, it’s a matter of making the right choices and supporting solutions, which brings real change. As surfers, we must protect the ocean. We need to act on this matter and lead the way toward a healthier ocean. It’s said that we only protect what we love. And I’m sure every surfer out there loves the ocean as much as I do. It’s the place we get the most joy—where we feel free and connected to nature and ourselves. It’s up to us to make small choices and create big changes in order to ensure its continuity.
Find out more about sustainable fishing practices and see how you can help at MSC.org.