‘MSC has set bar for sustainability too low’: Ecolabelling scheme urged to undergo review

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Monty Rakusen
GettyImages/Monty Rakusen

Related tags MSC

UK campaign group On the Hook has renewed its call for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)’s standard and operations to undergo a ‘full, external, independent and forensic review’.

A renewed call for a full independent review of MSC’s standard and operations has been launched by Off the Hook.

In a letter addressed to MSC CEO Rupert Howes and Board Chair Dr Werner Kiene, Off the Hook members – including the Blue Marine Foundation, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJC) and Woolworths – highlighted their concerns.

A primary issue, according to the campaign group, is the suggestion that MSC has certified ‘destructive’ fisheries, including deep-sea bottom-trawling fisheries, fisheries deliberately targeting marine mammals. And fisheries with high levels of bycatch.

“That raises fundamental questions as to whether the bar for certification is set high enough for the MSC ecolabel to serve its purpose of both identifying and subsequently incentivising improved sustainability practices on the water,” ​noted the signatories. “Our experiences suggest not in its current form.”

At the same time, On the Hook praised progress made by MSC in recent years. In particular, the ecolabelling scheme banned compartmentalisation – which will see it end the certification of fishing vessels that target a stock using unsustainable practices by 2023 – and included shark finning within the ongoing Fisheries Standard Review.

However, the “apparent inclination to allow fisheries to propose alternatives to Fins Naturally Attached appears to be simply a rebranded continuation of the status quo”, ​the campaign group continued.

“Furthermore, across both of these issues, our experience has been that the opportunity for genuine stakeholder engagement and input has been too limited. And in the meantime, many more fisheries of questionable sustainability have continued to be certified.”

On the Hook stressed its objective is MSC ‘reform’, rather than its ‘failure’, and that ‘although the MSC is not currently functioning effectively to serve its intended purpose’, the campaign group is ‘entirely convinced that it has an essential role to play’.

From MSC’s perspective, the ecolabelling standard ‘welcomes’ On the Hook’s recognition of its ‘important role’ in incentivising the adoption of sustainable fishing practices. However, it disagreed that MSC has ‘limited stakeholder engagement’, thus necessitating the need for an independent review.

“Stakeholder engagement is in our DNA,” ​it rebutted. “Our present review of the Fisheries Standard – which determines where the bar for certification is set – has involved an unprecedented level of consultation.”

The international non-profit continued: “Input from stakeholders is vital to inform any changes made to the Fisheries Standard, and we would urge the members of On the Hook [to] join with many other organisations around the world, and engage with this multi-stakeholder process.”

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