The best-known eco-label for sustainable fishing does not deliver what it promises. Call to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to comply with regulations

MSC - Make Stewardship Count

Overfishing of the oceans. Species extinction. The ocean ecosystem, so vital to us, at the bottom. It will take all our efforts to bring about the necessary changes. The top priority is sustainability in everything we do.

The MSC ecolabel was founded with this in mind. It is a seal that is supposed to stand for transparency and sustainable fishing and only certifies those who act according to these guidelines. Furthermore, it was supposed to create trust among consumers, and so it did not take long for it to become a kind of "gold standard" among eco-labels.

But what to do when this very seal goes against its own intentions? With the aim of maximum growth, the MSC has often decided against sustainability and transparency in fisheries. Several cases have ben brought to light where fisheries have been MSC-certified that demonstrably do not operate sustainably and use extremely harmful fishing practices.

To counteract this negative development, many organizations have joined forces under the name "Make Stewardship Count". The aim is not to work against the MSC, but to enter into dialogue with it and return the label to where it once started. Because one thing is also clear: It needs more transparency and more sustainability to turn the tide on marine conservation. And seals that truly stand for these attributes can be an important building block for this.

Together with our partners, we are constantly trying to enter into dialogue with the MSC, to inform traders about the possibility of exerting influence and, of course, to raise consumer awareness.

You can find more information on the background and current topics at https://www.make-stewardship-count.org/

Case studies of certifications of harmful fishing:

  • A tuna fishery in Mexico deliberately sets its nets over schools of dolphins in order to catch a school of fish suspected to be in their vicinity. Although the dolphins are driven out shortly before the nets are hauled in or released by divers, this method still often leads to serious injuries or death of the animals and is a permanent stress factor for the small or even endangered stocks. The fishery was certified as "sustainable" despite worldwide criticism and an objection by the WWF. Recently it became known that this very fishery even fishes in marine protected areas where fishing is prohibited.
  • The largest tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific (PNA) with a catch volume of over 1.2 million tonnes of tuna (bonito and yellowfin tuna) is to be recertified for half of its catch because this part is caught with a fishing method (free nets) that causes little bycatch. However, the fishery also uses a very harmful version of this fishing method. In this case, so-called FADs, artificial rafts, are set out. Many fish seek shelter from predators under these rafts. Among them are many young tuna, but also silky sharks, which fall victim as bycatch when the nets are hauled in. The exact figures are not known because this part of the fishery is not MSC-certified and therefore no data has to be recorded. The fact that almost 68,000 sharks die each year as a result is not assessed further. Not only that: Observers also reported "finning" in over 300 cases.
  • A Canadian longline fishery targeting swordfish was recently recertified, even though 100,000 sharks (mostly blue sharks) are caught as unwanted bycatch and thrown overboard dead or dying to catch only 20,000 swordfish annually. At least 1,200 endangered sea turtles are also affected as bycatch of this fishery.

Goal

The Alliance calls on the MSC to engage in dialogue in order to swiftly implement the demands. These seven categories of demands cover the following topics:

  • The overall impact of the fishery to be certified on the marine ecosystem must be considered, taking into account both the impacts of MSC certified fisheries and those of all other fisheries in an area.
  • All fishing activities of a fishery for the target species must be considered as part of the assessment.
  • MSC-certified fisheries must not contribute to the destruction of seabed biodiversity
  • The data used to certify the fishery must be transparent and complete and verifiable by the environmental organizations involved in the assessment process
  • Requirements for certification of a fishery must be fully met prior to the first recertification
  • The assessment of a fishery for the desired certification may only be carried out by certification agencies that are economically independent of the fishery to be certified and are not contracted or paid directly by the fishery to be certified
  • The MSC must proactively review and maintain the scientific standard and sustainability objectives of the scheme

The Steering Commitee consists of:

  • Shannon Arnold (Ecology Action Centre, Canada)
  • Dr. CAT Dorey (Consultant (Fish, Fisheries, & Science Communication), Australia)
  • Kate O’Connell (Animal Welfare Institute, USA)
  • Dr. Iris Ziegler (Sharkproject)

Involved partners

You can find an overview of all partners here:

https://www.make-stewardship-count.org/partners/

Project history

2018
Start of the Sharkproject campaign  "Return to Sustainability" with an open letter to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

2019
Re-naming the campaign to "Make Stewardship Count". The campaign becomes an independent society which is located in Switzerland and has many partner organisations.