How sustainable is that certified seafood?
Experts are questioning whether the seafood with the "sustainable" labels from the Marine Stewardship Council is really environmentally responsible.
This story was originally reported by PRI's Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.
A blue check mark from the Marine Stewardship Council is meant to signify to consumers that seafood has been sustainably harvested. The organization works with hundreds of scientists throughout the world and uses United Nations guidelines on certification. Kerry Coughlin, MSC's regional director for the Americas, told PRI's Living on Earth, "it's a very rigorous process."
A chorus of experts, however, disagrees. A recent opinion piece in the journal Nature says the MSC is "failing to protect the environment and needs radical reform." The article's author, Jennifer Jacquet, told Living on Earth, "the rules of the MSC for certification are too loosely worded, and can be loosely interpreted by third-party certifiers, the ones who actually come in and do the certifying."
The MSC relies on for-profit, third-party certifiers to inspect fisheries. These certifiers have a financial interest in certifying fisheries. They make money by giving the green light. "It's a very hard problem to get around," Jacquet says, "but that is currently the way the market is structured."
Coughlin believes that the process is scientifically rigorous, and there are plenty of checks and reviews of certifiers.
The MSC also doesn't consider what the fish are being used for. For example, the organization certifies some fisheries that grind up seafood into fishmeal for livestock or other farmed fish. According to Jaquet, this practice, "in and of itself, is unsustainable."
If consumers want to be sure that they're getting sustainable seafood, Jaquet believes they should create a relationship with a retailer, rather than an eco-label. She suggests that people "make it known to your local fish counter that sustainability is important to you."
"There's no reason for consumers to question whether a fishery is sustainable, if it has been certified to the Marine Stewardship Council's standard," according to the MSC's Coughlin. She insists that the program is robust, scientific and doesn’t need any changes, even if "it won't satisfy every person's agenda," Coughlin says, "and I think that was the case with this opinion piece."
For Jaquet, the issue is about the seafood industry as a whole, rather than one certification. She told Living on Earth:
There are two options if you want sustainable seafood. You can reform the fishing industry to make it sustainable-- that's ideal, right-- but that will take a long time. Fisheries are really in big trouble. Or, you could re-define sustainability to fit the current seafood industrial model. And, that's what we're worried is happening with the current MSC process.
Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth."