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Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

May 2004 Update

By Karen Tarica
(206) 369-0855

With high protein diets, awareness of the health benefits of Omega-3 oils found in some fish and a general move toward healthier eating converging, more people are heading to the seafood case at their local market and ordering up fish at their favorite restaurant. Seafood consumption is on the rise good for our health but what about the health of our ocean?

The increasing demand is raising questions about whether fisheries can replenish themselves fast enough to keep up. Reports from the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy both call for management changes to protect the future of our ocean and marine resources but until changes are implemented, consumers and businesses must step in and do their part. Today, buying seafood requires more than a discerning palate.

In California, environment-conscious consumers look for the organic seal when shopping for food but since organics are not applied to seafood, how does one find environmentally sensitive choices at the fish counter? Various programs are working to inform consumers about seafood issues but shoppers want good choices to be easy. Perhaps one of the most visible and popular programs is Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program which offers wallet cards to guide consumers toward sustainable seafood choices using a red, yellow and green chart indicating good choices, those to be purchased with caution and those of concern.

“The wallet cards are a great starting point and introduction to the issue  said Jim Humphreys, Director of the Marine Stewardship Council's Americas Region. “But for consumers and businesses who desire greater assurance that a fishery has been examined by independent scientists to determine if they're really from responsibly managed sources, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seafood certification program is the answer. Further, it is the only seafood advice program which provides a traceability system. The program is based on science and the eco-label on packaging and in the fresh fish case provides a quick and easy way for consumers to identify seafood from responsibly managed sources without having to remember to bring along a guide.

In fact, research from the Seafood Choices Alliance, The Marketplace for Sustainable Seafood: Growing Appetites and Shrinking Seas, found consumers prefer labels as a way to obtain information about seafood. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed indicated they want more information about the environmental impacts associated with seafood and 71% said seeing an environmentally responsible”label would make them more inclined to purchase a particular seafood item. The MSC eco-label provides consumers with the seafood information they hunger for.

The international, non-profit MSC is a first of its kind seafood certification and eco-labeling program. Founded as a business-environmental partnership of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever in 1997, the now-independent MSC uses consumer purchasing power as a conservation tool which helps ensure our favorite seafoods will be around for generations to come. Wild-harvest fisheries come forward voluntarily to be assessed against the MSC's strict environmental standard by an independent team of scientists. The Standard was created after extensive consultation with leaders from the fishing industry, academics, government and the conservation community. It is based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and examines the status of the stock, effect of fishing on the marine ecosystem and the effectiveness of the management system. The process is thorough and can take several months to a couple of years to complete depending on the complexity of the fishery. Those meeting the standard are certified and, once traceability is established, their products can carry the distinctive blue and white MSC “seal of approval” indicating the fishery has met stringent environmental criteria. Consumer preference for certified and eco-labeled seafood rewards responsible fishing and serves as incentive for other fisheries to move toward sustainable management.

Today, ten fisheries have earned certification, 14 are currently in the final stages of evaluation and more than two dozen are at other points in the process. Alaska salmon was the first American fishery to become certified and remains the only salmon fishery in the world able to use the eco-label. Natural and organic leader, Whole Foods Market, became the first retailer in the US to commit to selling MSC certified fish like Alaska salmon and now promotes the product during its annual, month-long “Fish for our Future”campaign designed to highlight Alaska salmon as a well-managed seafood choice and educate customers about how their seafood choices can reward those who value careful stewardship of marine resources. This year, Whole Foods Market is expanding its certified product line to include private label products including a fish stick made from certified sustainable New Zealand hoki.

“Until the MSC came along, there was no third party seafood certification program to deem fisheries sustainable and the world fishing situation was out of control because too many fish were being harvested too quickly,” said Dick Jones, seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “By identifying seafood from responsible fisheries, our customers can bring home fish they feel confident feeding to their families.

Similarly, Colorado-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts became the first food service operation in the US to sign on with the MSC program not only promoting the fact that its wild salmon is from an MSC-certified fishery but also securing a traceability certificate documenting the fish back to Alaska proving it has not been mixed with uncertified seafood. The eco-label is placed next to wild Alaska salmon selections on menus at Xanterra's restaurants in National Parks including California's Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort at Death Valley National Park to assure guests that their seafood choice is a sustainable one.

“National park visitors value conservation and want to know that their choices aren't hurting the environment they care about,”said Tim Stein, Corporate Food & Beverage Director for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “The MSC eco-label is an easy way to convey the sustainability of seafood offerings. It's simple for visitors to understand and allows them to feel good about the seafood they enjoy without necessarily understanding all of the complex issues facing fisheries today.

Californians may soon see the eco-label on the seafood which most recently was awarded certification. In April, the Mexican Baja California Red Rock (spiny) lobster fishery became the first Latin American fishery and first developing world fishery to earn the right to use the eco-label on its products. The spiny lobster is a clawless lobster with a spine covered shell which is caught using fish or lobster traps. Restaurants and retailers who like the lobster's sweet, firm taste now have another reason to purchase spiny lobster from Baja California.

“We are excited to see new products like Baja California spiny lobster becoming MSC certified so that we can increase our selections of eco-friendly seafood,” said Andrew Ryland Spurgin, Executive Director/Chef of Waters Fine Catering in San Diego and co-founder of Passionfish, a non-profit promoting seafood sustainability. In California, we've worked with the MSC and Whole Foods Market for three years to promote certified and labeled fish and will continue to help get the word out to consumers about seafood choices they can feel good about.

The California Salmon Council hopes fish from its troll-caught king salmon fishery will soon join the list of those bearing the MSC eco-label. The council is seeking certification for its fishery which produced 6.4 million pounds of king salmon last year up 28% from the year before as a way to promote its environmental commitment and expand markets.

“We believe certification will allow us to expand our domestic and international markets to include those who are today asking for products certified as sustainable and well-managed under the MSC program,” said David Goldenberg, Chief Executive Officer of the California Salmon Council. “The project should have an economic payoff as fishermen, receivers and suppliers all have a role in assuring the consuming public that California salmon are managed and harvested in a sustainable and responsible manner.

The California king salmon fishery along with Alaska halibut, pollock and sablefish and British Columbia salmon and halibut are all currently being evaluated against the MSC's environmental standard. Additionally, the American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA) recently became the first tuna fishery to publicly announce it is seeking certification. Today, there are more than 200 products in 17 countries carrying the MSC eco-label –a 30% increase from last year. Among them, the first food supplement to carry the MSC logo –an Alaska salmon fish oil supplement created by Vital Choice Seafoods.

“Look at the success of the organics movement which has gained enormous momentum and has seen a sustained 21% growth of product sales from 1997 to date within a $9 billion natural food market,” said Spurgin. “Sustainable seafood tools like the MSC program will allow us to do for our ocean what organics have done for the land we are empowered to economically reward responsible use of our resources thus increasing the chances we'll be able to enjoy the bounty of the sea well into the future.

For more information:

or contact the MSC's Seattle office at (206) 691-0188.

For more information visit:

Xanterra Parks & Resorts

Whole Foods Market




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