20. January 2019 Nils Kluger

The MSC Seal balks at improvements to their standard and continues to mislead consumers

Bild: Sharkproject

In January 2018, Sharkproject together with 65 other organisations and scientists published an open letter to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Containing a list of seven key demands, it was a call to the MSC to improve their certification procedures and thereby, once again, become a genuine alternative for consumers wanting to purchase sustainably caught fish.

This appeal garnered worldwide interest and was also supported by the WWF, who issued a press statement in support of the action. Despite this, the MSC has yet to implement a single change or even state its intent to do so. Quite the contrary, they have, in fact, awarded their blue MSC seal to more, completely non-sustainable fisheries. Here is a sample of what they are certifying in three particularly shocking examples:

  • The PNA – A tuna fishery in the western central pacific (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) were recertified despite the fact that their ships have been proven to practice finning. This underhandedness was once again criticised in an open letter compiled by 45 environmental and species protection agencies, and even signed by retailers and other fisheries.
  • Hoki-fishery in New Zealand was also recertified as sustainable, despite records showing that they discard catch, fish in breeding areas, make false claims regarding fishing methods as well as providing unreliable information regarding bycatch of threatened and protected species.
  • For the first time in the history of the MSC they have certified a fishery that lures fish on the open seas using drifting FADs (fish aggregating devices). The Spanish Echebastar was awarded the MSC seal for a fleet in the Indian Ocean despite the fact that they were not only catching the certified bonito but also large amounts of yellowfin tuna and silky sharks. In January of 2016 a mere five ships caught almost 8.000, mostly young and still immature silky sharks. A formal objection to the certification launched by Sharkproject, the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) and the WWF, was unsuccessful.

These examples show that, if the MSC seal is to once again become a trustworthy guideline, there must be fundamental changes made with regards to the requirements for and implementation of certification. The consumers are in agreement: sustainable fishing cannot involve the deaths of dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, whales and other threatened and protected species or the destruction of delicate marine environments. This is the standpoint of the vast majority of European consumers as confirmed by a survey carried out by YouGov Germany.

Members of Make Stewardship Count coalition in front of MSC headquarters: from left to right: Adrian Gahan (Blue Marine Foundation, UK), Dr. Iris Ziegler (Sharkproject International, Deutschland), Dr. Barbara Maas (NABU International Stiftung, Deutschland), Dr. Mark Jones (Born Free, UK) und Shannon Arnold (Ecology Action Centre (Kanada)

This is why Sharkproject formed a coalition with the signatories of the letter and other scientists/organisations under the name “Make Stewardship Count”. It has continued to grow and currently comprises 82 members. The aim of the coalition is, within the framework of the upcoming inspection of the MSC standards, to discuss our demands with all who are involved in an open and transparent process so that improvements can be implemented together. The MSC is called upon to facilitate this process. Whether the review of the MSC standards, due to begin this year, will be able to restore public faith in the blue seal and make it once again a trustworthy alternative for consumers, rests in the hands of the MSC and their preparedness to deal with the demands of the critics openly and constructively.