Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MSC sockeye salmon certification - who profits?

The David Suzuki Foundation has just produced a useful backgrounder on the controversial Marine Stewardship Council certification of BC sockeye salmon.
The backgrounder states that The Marine Stewardship Council eco-label allows certified fisheries to brand themselves as a “sustainable” source of seafood. Fisheries voluntarily apply for certification, and they do so by hiring a for-profit company to carry out the assessment.

While I don't profess to understand the whole MSC process, some additional information might be useful for those not familiar with the relationship between MSC as a non-profit organization and the profit-maximising companies that do the actual assessments.

MSC provides a Fishery Standard containing Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing as well as a manual of Fisheries Assessment Methodology and Guidance to Certification Bodies Including Default Assessment Tree and Risk-Based Framework.  Only companies that are accredited by Accreditation Services International GmbH (ASI) to the MSC accreditation requirements can do fishery sustainability certification assessments under the MSC process.  These companies apply the MSC Standard and use the MSC Methods and Guidance manual to do the actual assessments and determine certifiable fisheries.

The MSC website gives the following list of accredited certifiers:
  • Det Norske Veritas Certification AS
  • Food Certification International Ltd (FCI)
  • Global Trust Certifications Ltd (Previously I:FQC Ltd)
  • MacAlister Elliott & Partners Ltd
  • Moody Marine Ltd
  • MRAG Americas
  • Organizaci├│n Internacional Agropecuaria (OIA)
  • Scientific Certification Systems
  • Tavel Certification Inc.
This is not completely up-to-date because Moody Marine Ltd (which has carried out a number of MSC assessments) recently acquired one of the competition, Tavel Certification Inc.

What is important here is that the accredited certifiers are all  companies seeking to maximise profits through the MSC sustainability and eco-labelling system.  To be competitive they can vary the fee they charge fishing enterprises seeking certification and then seek ways to cut the costs of doing the actual certification. One of the costs to the certifier involves hiring outside experts to assist with the assessments because of limited in-house expertise, and to do independent reviews of draft assessments.  These experts include government fisheries scientists and academics who may already be involved in advising governments and RFMOs on the sustainable management of  various fisheries.

As a non-profit, MSC is funded by donation and by the fee it charges components of the supply chain for displaying its blue eco-label. Note that some enterprises that achieve certification choose not to actually use the MSC eco-label in order to avoid paying the fee.  MSC also runs a second process for "Chain of Custody certifications" in which an overlapping list of companies are accredited to certify businesses that meet the MSC Chain of Custody standard for seafood traceability. A further source of income to MSC is the objection process.  Bodies filing an objection (usually conservation organizations funded by private donations) are charged a significant fee by MSC which presumably partly offsets the salaries they pay to four lawyers who are retained as "independent adjudicators" to judge the validity of objections.




1 comment:

  1. Hi there, nice post! Thanks. However I've problems reconciling the alleged "non-for-profit" nature of MSC with this statement: "It just receives a 0.5 percent royalty on the wholesale value of consumer products that carry its label"(http://www.seafoodsource.com/print.aspx?id=13907). Now, with over 11,000 MSC-labelled products worldwide (http://www.msc.org/cook-eat-enjoy/fish-to-eat/) moving millions of $, a 0.5% royalty seems quite a nice profit, isn't it?