Monday, February 13, 2012

Former MSC head spills the fish guts on the Alaskan salmon pullout

A former head of the MSC has commented publicly on the pullout from the certification scheme by the Alaskan salmon industry.  He questions whether it is a kamikaze move or a considered action.   He notes that nobody expected a stalwart of the MSC certification scheme to abandon ship at the height of the eco-certification bubble.  

But maybe that bubble is about to burst?   Has the asymptote been reached?  Have the cumulative cases of questionable MSC certifications finally reached the point where the brand is beginning to lose value? 

Brendan May gives us a rare peak into the dilemma that MSC faces on a daily basis trying to play environmental groups off against commercial enterprises.  He recounts the hours spent by MSC figuring out how to kick a fishery out of the programme so Greenpeace and others might stop thinking they were a front for the industry or a satanic incarnation.  But very few fisheries have been kicked out.

The MSC certification of the Canadian longline swordfish fishery a few days ago further weakens the MSC brand.  Despite the objection of environmental groups, MSC has certified a fishery in which, it is claimed, two sharks die are cuaght for every swordfish caught (some percentage of which survive on release) and which causes 200- 500 endangered sea turtles to breathe their last every year.

As environmental groups have been quick to point out, not many people would be happy to sit down to a meal of MSC certified longline swordfish knowing that it comes with a side dish of endangered turtle and shark.


  1. A correction is required here, it is "claimed" that two sharks are "CAUGHT" for every swordfish not "killed". Most sharks are released alive, 90% actually. For the math to work, for the 20,000 swordfish caught annually, that would mean 400,000 sharks would have to be caught. There were not enough hooks in the water in this fishery to make these kind of catches.

    1. Hi Troy, thank you for your correction of the facts. Much appreciated. Do you have a reference for the 90% survival rate of released sharks from the fishery?

      From DFO website: The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) total allowable catch in 2010 for North Atlantic swordfish is 13,700 tonnes. Canada's allocation of this TAC is 1,348 t. 90% of this is taken by the longline fishery. Assumming that on average an individual weighs 120kg, this would equal about 10,000 swordfish in the Canadian longline fishery. If the ratio of shark to swordfish is 2-1 this would be 20,000 sharks in the Canadian fishery. If the suvival is 90% then this would equal 2000 sharks. I don't know what society considers to be reasonable "collateral damage" in putting a swordfish steak on a dining room table. This is the kind of information that should be provided on an MSC label: "This product is MSC certified, but it should be pointed out that 2,000 sharks are killed annually in this fishery"

  2. Keep in mind that this fleet is licensed to retain shark by-catch. I don't know of many certified fisheries that don't have by-catch but haven't seen anything on the label for their product. What makes this fishery any different?