Don’t let stormy waters blow you off sustainable course

How do you balance the imperative to drive up brand recognition for a certification label that promotes sustainable seafood and protect future stocks, against accusations that your success maybe leading to a dilution of standards?

A story in The Times newspaper last weekend, based on a leaked report, contained some potentially damaging comments about the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) blue tick ecolabel. More worrying still was the fact that these comments came from one of MSC’s founding organisation’s WWF.

The Times reported ‘troubling systematic flaws’ in the certification scheme and that MSC has ‘financial interest in certification outcomes’. Further, it claimed: ‘circumstantial evidence is accumulating that this creates a conflict with MSC’s role as an independent and impartial standard-setting body.’

Let’s spell out a couple of things:

  1. WWF insists that this leaked report is a draft of an internal paper that hadn’t been reviewed, fact-checked or ‘balanced by diversities of opinion’.
  2. MSC has launched an in-depth, detailed and robust rebuttal of the claims

MSC has over the past 20 years helped put sustainable seafood at the very heart of the global menu. And there is no doubt that it’s work has helped enormously to raise consumer awareness of the crisis facing our oceans as well as encouraged fishermen, retailers, foodservice to make more responsible choices.

As Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC said: “To make a real difference to the way our oceans are fished, certification must be credible and independent. The MSC program is premised on stakeholder involvement, independent assessment and scientific rigour. Evidence shows that MSC certified fisheries are delivering positive impacts. With the support of WWF and our partners, the MSC has established a trusted certification programme and ecolabel that is supporting healthy oceans and a sustainable seafood market.”

In its statement the MSC went on to make it clear that it makes no profit from the certification of fisheries adding that its revenue comes from charitable donations and a license fee, ‘paid by retailers and brands who choose to use the blue MSC label on their products’.

In terms of cold hard stats, the MSC have some compelling numbers too to demonstrate the positive change they’re making. Its Global Impacts Report confirms that 94% of certified fisheries are required to make at least one improvement to strengthen or further monitor the sustainability of their operations in order to maintain their certificate. By the end of 2015, 281 fisheries (91% of all certified fisheries) had made 876 improvements, with many more being developed.

All certification bodies are open to scrutiny and it’s only right that questions should be asked and where appropriate improvements and changes made to ensure that they stay true to their original goals and mission as well as reflect changes in the ever-shifting world of global sustainability. That’s a major job.

But MSC has a 20-year proven track record of making positive change – way beyond UK shores. Growing numbers of restaurateurs and chefs are convinced of the case, like Andrei Lussmann, of Lussmanns Fish & Grill, who writes eloquently in this blog of the case for restaurants becoming MSC certified – empowering consumers to drive positive change.


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