Marine Stewardship Council Under Scrutiny Over Bycatch


Published Jan 26, 2018 6:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, a coalition of environmental groups accused the world's largest certification agency for sustainably sourced seafood of "allowing fisheries with widely unacceptable impacts to be certified." 

The coalition, which included Greenpeace and the Environmental Justice Foundation, said that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) urgently needs to improve its Fisheries Standard, a document that specifies which fisheries may be deemed sustainable - especially since MSC wants to grow to cover 20 percent of the world's catch. In particular, the group wrote, MSC must revise the way the standard treats effects on bycatch and non-target species. 

"If fisheries interfere with the recovery of endangered species, they should not qualifiy for sustainable certification, regardless of whether that species is the target for the fishery," said Dr. Cat Dorey of non-profit advocacy organization Heavens Beneath. "We think most consumers would agree."

On the day of the coalition's announcement, MSC said in a statement that it will be strenghtening its assurance model and revising its certification requirements. It also promised to begin a process to review its Fisheries Standard, the object of the coalition's criticism. MSC asserted that it is a "listening organization" and that it "works hard to understand and meet evolving expectations of sustainability." 

The coalition also called for MSC to incorporate a review of labor practices and human rights into its certification process. Reports of slavery and abuse have dogged certain Southeast Asian fisheries in recent years, notably the Thai fishing industry. In its statement, MSC noted that it has protections in place against human rights abuse: companies that have been convicted of forced labor violations within the past two years are forbidden from participating in its certification process. MSC added that it would expand on this short-term ban by requiring an audit for high risk supply chain companies; in addition, firms engaged in fishing and tendering in high-risk fisheries will be subject to an audit once "third party social standards relevant to at-sea operations have been developed." 

In 2016, an unauthorized draft document leaked from World Wildlife Fund described circumstantial evidence that MSC could be improperly influenced by its arrangements with the fishing industry. The 0.5 percent take that MSC receives from the value of its certified catch could be creating "a conflict with MSC's role as an independent and impartial standard-setting body," the draft document asserted. The organization derives most of its revenue from this percentage fee, and the report noted that MSC has "aggressively pursued global scale growth" and has begun to take in more revenue in recent years. An MSC spokesman expressed disappointment with the report's claims. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.