From the mudlets of the Mekong delta to the Fjords of Norway, the past five years have seen sustainable seafood flourish. This is partly due to certified fisheries, which have delivered measureable, positive impacts in the oceans. While uncertified stocks have struggled with greater variability in terms of biomass and fishing pressure, stocks certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have increased in abundance even as demand for sustainable seafood increased.
Between 2010 and 2015, the volume of global wild seafood catch that was MSC-certified nearly doubled: from 5 percent (over 4.5 million tonnes) in 2010 to 9.4 percent (over 8.8 million tonnes) in 2015. By the end of last year, 281 fisheries in 33 countries had received MSC certification and they had already made 876 improvements, with many more under development. The number of Chain of Custody certificate holders across the seafood supply chain has grown by 264 percent since 2010, to a total of 2,898 holders in 2015. From fisheries to trading companies to hotel chains and IKEA, diverse supply chain stakeholders participate in the harvesting, processing, and selling of MSC-labelled seafood in many countries around the world.
The MSC’s program has improved both seafood traceability and fishery biomass. DNA tests have shown that 99.6 percent of MSC-labeled products are correctly labeled – a significantly better percentage than the industry as a whole, given that about 30 percent of seafood products are mislabeled. Meanwhile, an MSC study of fish stocks in northern Europe over the past 14 years demonstrated that certified fish stocks were more abundant than those which were uncertified.
“Our analysis of European fish stocks demonstrates that certified fisheries are improving the health of fish populations. MSC certified fisheries in Europe now target more abundant fish stocks at a more sustainable fishing rate than they did before MSC certification,” said Dr. David Agnew, MSC’s Science and Standards Director.
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The organization has released a new Global Impacts Report to demonstrate their progress and mark World Oceans Day (June 8). The MSC’s Chief Executive Rupert Howes noted, “Our latest report showcases the results of the hard work, innovation and investment made by fisheries to achieve and maintain certification, and the positive change on the water the MSC program helps catalyse globally.”
Indeed, fishery certification has found success around the world: The first fishery certifications in India and China were recently achieved, following programs of improvement by the Ashtamudi short-necked clam fishery in Kerala and the Zoneco scallop fishery in Zhangzidao. Meanwhile, numbers of certified fisheries have risen in Europe, North America and the Antarctic. For instance, 78 percent of Canadian catch by value is now MSC-certified. The MSC’s regional teams are building partnerships with fisheries, markets and other organizations to help improve African, Pacific South American, and South East Asian representation in the program; currently the South African hake trawl and Juan Fernández rock lobster fishery are the only ones from the former two regions, and there are very few from the latter.
“With many developing world fisheries in urgent need of improvement or recovery, the challenge is huge – but so is the potential for transformation. The MSC is committed to helping these fisheries overcome barriers to certification and to building their capacity for effective and sustainable fisheries management,” Howes said.
The report reveals that over a third (36 percent) of assessments between 2012 and 2015 received input from stakeholders and 12.5 percent of comments contributed to a change in the fishery’s assessment score. The certification has also demonstrably led to practical improvements: 94 percent of certified fisheries have been “required to make at least one improvement to strengthen or further monitor the sustainability of their operations in order to maintain their certificate.”
In terms of species included in the program, several new species have entered the program, including Icelandic golden redfish and lumpfish following a commitment to MSC by the Icelandic Sustainable Fisheries group. For all of the species in the program, the number of fisheries increased from 2010 to 2015 – with the exception of mackerel which remained the same. The rise in certified tuna fisheries is also notable: 11 have achieved certification and 13 are in full assessment. These fisheries harvest skipjack, yellowfin and albacore from 10 of the 23 global tuna stocks and represent a combined 25 percent of globally landed tuna. The MSC recently partnered with John West Australia and WWF-Australia to offer the world’s largest range of sustainable tuna.
The MSC’s report clearly demonstrates how global collaboration has successfully propelled ‘smarter’ and more selective fishing, and will continue to do so for years to come.