The organisation said the move was in response to increasing global seaweed fishery production and a demand for certification in this area. It said this would be a world first for wild multicellular algae, with a draft proposal expected for consultation at the end of this year.
Sergio Cansado, MSC fisheries assessment manager, told Food Navigator that this will be the first international standard consistent with the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL Alliance) code of good social and environmental practice and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) guidelines for ecolabelling of fish and fishery products from marine capture fisheries.
Cansado said: "With global seaweed fishery production is increasing, it is important to understand the impact this has both on the species being harvested and the broader marine environment. The MSC’s intention, therefore, is to provide a standard that will reward those harvesting seaweed sustainably, while also providing a benchmark for others to improve towards."
David Stone, standards communications manager for the organisation, told Food Navigator: “Like with any of the more traditional programmes, this standard offers market incentives as well as environmental incentives as presumably they will be able to carry on fishing.”
The MSC said: “A sustainable seaweed fishery needs the same level of management and monitoring as an equivalent animal fishery, with both requiring stock assessments and harvest control rules.”
“However, sustainable best practice for seaweed fisheries is not yet as well developed as it is for other types of fishery. The MSC will therefore be conducting further research to identify indicators of sustainability for both stock status and ecosystem impact,” the council said.
Market incentives, environmental benchmarks
Cansado said: “The MSC mission is to use our ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising 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.”
MSC said the standard was being developed in response to a direct call from fisheries asking if there was scope to include seaweed in the assessment. The organisation said algae falls within its standard's remit since the only marine resource limit it has set is to exclude fisheries that target reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals, and fisheries employing explosives and poison.
“A number of seaweed harvesters and other stakeholders, especially across the EU, Canada and Latin America, have expressed interest in the MSC standard for certification of sustainable fisheries, and have directly asked MSC to explore the possibility of joining the program. It is the MSC’s hope that as seaweed production increases, it is done in a way that secures stocks and so supplies are safeguarded for future generations,” Cansado said.
Sustainable market demand
Stone declined to comment on whether the standard was in response to any kind of supply issues but said: “Essentially, any fishery is taking resources from the sea.”
Last year Cargill – an ingredients firm using carrageenans as a food texturing solution – said it was diversifying its seaweed portfolio in both location and species to combat associated supply risks.
At the time, the company said: “The market for wild red seaweeds, from which some carrageenans are traditionally derived, has become volatile and extremely tight in recent years…This is due to raw material scarcity caused by environmental factors, as well as local production quotas impacting supply and continuously increasing demand.”
Fabrice Bohin, head of hydrocolloids and European functional system business at Cargill Texturizing Solutions, told FoodNavigator: "We want to anticipate and prevent everything that we can prevent.”
Adding: “We saw things coming many years ago and we prepared ourselves.”