Destination: Marine Stewardship Council

Clocking in at an amazing 1313k – extra amazing for a shark on a bicycle- I made it to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) headquarters in the heart of London’s financial district. Wow – cycling in rush hour London traffic felt only slightly less dangerous than swimming around surface longline fishing gear.

After declining to meet with me on the street, in my makeshift office, the MSC was kind enough to invite me inside, along with Ecology Action Centre’s Marine Coordinator Shannon Arnold. Their key executives all attended our meeting – Rupert Howse, CEO; David Agnew, Director of Standards; Simon Edwards, Global Marketing Director; and Kerry Coughlin, Regional Director for Americas. Whew – quite the crowd, but we held our own. They tried their standard diversion tactic, saying that they couldn’t discuss fisheries in assessment and that it was not them, but the certifying company we should be talking to. Never fear – we were prepared for that!

Lucky for MSC, they are right next to the main police station– there were plenty of Bobbies around to make sure this shark kept in line (though, thankfully, not on the line…

While we do have an extensive objection filed about the certifying company’s assessment of the Canadian swordfish longline fishery, we had trekked all the way to MSC to address loopholes in their standard that can allow such a harmful fishery – surface longline for swordfish – to make it through their assessment process. These gaping flaws are things that only MSC can fix, hopefully before they lose the trust of conscientious shoppers and retailers.

The key issue MSC needs to address is the cumulative impact of fisheries on animals that are ocean-ranging. Fish like swordfish, sharks, marlins, and animals like sea turtles migrate immense distances and while they do so, many different fishing fleets are catching them. The swordfish longline fleet not only catches an unacceptable amount of non- target animals (5 fish wasted for each target fish) in Canadian water, but also contributes to the cumulative exploitation of these highly migratory animals. It is the continued impact of all the fleets together- with no one taking responsibility- that has led to Atlantic endangered shark and sea turtle populations. The MSC scoring has no way to count this. Each fleet, like the Canadian one gets away with it since thet are only a bit of the problem. Well, bit by bit the MSC is certifying the whole mess that got us into the ocean’s crisis because of this missing piece in their standard.

Rupert and company acknowledged at our meeting this dangerous hole in their standard, now that fisheries chasing ocean-ranging species are lining up for certification. They assured me the issue was being addressed with a consultation next year, which might lead to a new policy the year after, and then an allowance of four more years for fisheries to catch up. That could be 6 years! Meanwhile populations continue to decline.

If the European union passes their new no-discard policy this year, the MSC will find themselves in the absurd position of falling behind one of biggest bureaucratic governance machines on the planet! That is a sorry state for a seafood eco-label which once promised to push ambitious best practices for fisheries. They seem to have become a big tangle of bureaucracy, processes, and committees of their own, unable to respond with the speed we need to address our fundamental overfishing issues.

MSC must find a way to change their standard on bycatch and discards more quickly. At the very least they must not allow any new fisheries ocean migrating species to be certified before they get their act together with new policies in place. We need to make sure the worlds leading eco-label stays relevant and is making sure fisheries are rewarded not just for following today’s clearly broken fishing regulations but for creating the best practices that will ensure fishing has a future and our oceans return to health.

The world’s most prominent seafood eco-label is at risk of becoming another cog in the machine, co-opted by interests wanting to continue making money from dirty fishing practices. Your letters (2000+) and photos (100s) are important tools to remind them that they have responsibility to citizens and species everywhere. We will continue to push them on this!

…. and if the swordfish longliners get eco-certified, we will be asking retailers not to carry it despite the MSC label, and we will ask for your help as customers to use your voice.