Friday, December 20, 2013

MSC – Controlling the medium controlling the message?

Although technically a non-profit, the Marine Stewardship Council is a for-profit organization – the profit being used to expand the scope and influence of the Council. 

A new area of expansion is the creation of an online fisheries science research library.

The “library” is essentially a new eJournal called “MSC Science Series”.  It will be published biannually and the first volume is now online.

The MSC Science Series provides a medium for publishing the results of MSC funded research related to the MSC standard for sustainable fisheries and marine ecosystems.  The review and editorial panels comprise mainly MSC staffers and insiders.

Fisheries and marine ecosystem sciences are already well served by a number of online scientific journals, both those with a long-standing tradition in paper form and a number of recently added eJournals. 

These journals pride themselves on having independent and objective peer review processes.  It is questionable whether there is a real need for a new eJournal, particularly one in which the review and editorial process is tightly controlled by the hosting organization.

Informed criticism of the MSC process has come mainly from fisheries scientists and ecologists who have questioned the data, methods and results of some MSC sustainability determinations.  A number of these have been published in independent peer reviewed journals.  In contrast, there have been few papers in support of the MSC approach written by scientists who are completely independent of the MSC process.

Rather than working on establishing the scientific legitimacy of its data, methods and results through the existing independent peer reviewed literature, the MSC is hoping to further its cause by creating a quasi-scientific medium in which the message will be closely controlled and favourable to the MSC. 

In some ways this is similar to another MSC institution, the quasi-legal Objections Procedure in which “Independent Adjudicators” hired by MSC to adjudicate on objections to MSC sustainability determinations invariably decide in favor of the MSC and against the objectors. 

Ironically, the objectors are typically groups and associations of scientists and environmentalists citing information published in the peer reviewed scientific literature!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Newfoundland Grand Bank shrimp still sustainable?

Is the shrimp fishery on the Grand Bank of Newfoundland being sustainable managed?

MSC thinks so.  It has been MSC Certified Sustainable for a number of years and products are entitled to carry the MSC approved blue sustainable fish logo as an incentive for environmentally aware consumers to buy the product at premium prices.

However, since 2009 NAFO (North Atlantic Fisheries Organization) fisheries managers have set TACs higher than those recommended by NAFO scientists.  In addition, Denmark in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, unhappy with their share of the TAC, set their own additional quota in several years, a unilateral action allowed under NAFO rules.

The latest incident is the 2013 decision for the 2014 TAC.  Advice from NAFO scientists was that the stock had declined to a very low level termed the “limit reference point” where any further fishing would be in danger of causing serious and irreversible harm, and that there should therefore be no fishing in 2014.

NAFO managers again ignored the scientific advice and set the TAC for 2014 at 4,300 tons with the major portion allocated to Canada.

In contrast, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in the US recently heeded similar scientific advice from US scientists and has shut down the shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine for 2014.

Conclusion – MSC subscribes to the notion that management of a "sustainable" fishery does not have to be science-based to retain certification?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fisheries Ministers lost their authority to MSC in a coup de'etat in 2008?

Dr. Doug Butterworth, a retired academic and fisheries consultant from a South African university, recently made the claim at an international marine conference that fisheries ministers around the world lost their authority in a coup de'etat in 2008 when the MSC succeeded in persuading major European supermarkets to only purchase MSC certified products. This claim was made during a key-note address at the September 2013 ICES (International Council for Exploration of the Sea) Annual Science Conference in Reykjav√≠k (min 41:38 onwards)‎.

Butterworth says that prior to this the MSC was in the doldrums but in 2008 there was a quiet revolution in which fisheries ministers did not even realize that they had surrendered their authority on national fisheries policy to the MSC.  Butterworth states that this resulted in an explosion in applications for MSC certification.

Butterworth argues that although MSC is only dealing with 10% of the World's fisheries, the process is so burdensome that it is draining scientific expertise in stock assessments to produce MSC reviews of variable consistency.  Butterworth claims that the MSC review process is inferior to processes such as the review that takes place in ICES in providing scientific advice on the management of European fish stocks.

This view adds to the debate recently rekindled in Alaska over salmon certification - should MSC be second-guessing national and international processes already in place to provide scientific assessments, review and advice on meeting sustainability criteria?  If ICES scientists provide advice to managers on how to manage a European fishery in a sustainable manner and managers follow this advice, what added value does MSC really have?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Silly WWF for not knowing that trawling is actually good for the environment!

The World Wildlife Fund has attempted to carve out an ENGO niche for itself that is to the right of most other ENGOs.  It likes to show that it can work as partners with industry, governments, RFMOs (regional fisheries management organizations) like NAFO, and with organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council to achieve sustainable fisheries and less damaging fishing practices.

However the partnership between MSC and the WWF hit a bump last week when MSC demanded that a video supporting MSC but critical of trawling be pulled from public view following outrage from the fishing industry (many MSC certified fisheries are trawler fisheries).  WWF dutifully complied.  See, trawling is actually a good way to catch fish, not bad!  Silly WWF for not knowing this!  If they want to hang with the MSC they better smarten up their act!

WWF states: "While our intention was to support fisheries that have made the commitment to MSC and sustainability, we want to be responsive to our industry partners and their concerns. As such, we have removed the video from public sources."

Thanks to wonders of the internet, the video is still available here for your viewing pleasure:

Read more here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MSC upsets fisheries by backing WWF video

The Association of Sustainable Fisheries (ASF) has addressed a letter of protest to MSC chief executive Rupert Howes, over a video portraying commercial fishing practices as damaging to the environment.

This includes practices used by many MSC Certified fisheries!!!

Read more here:

US gives the boot to MSC?

Legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska on Sept. 18 would prohibit federal agencies from using certification schemes when considering or labeling any domestic seafood catch as sustainable.

"It is bad federal policy to allow third party certifiers, including foreign non-governmental organizations, to decide what seafood is allowed to be sold in national parks, or procured by federal agencies, Murkowski said.

Not too long ago, wild Alaska salmon served as the flagship species for the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, she said. "Now MSC is disparaging the "sustainability of Alaska salmon. MCS and NGOs like them have political agendas, lack transparency, and use their certification schemes to inappropriately influence federal and state fisheries management."

- See more at:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bluewashing and lollipops – MSC sustainable fisheries certification under pressure

There have been two recent provocative contributions to the growing discussion of the Marine Stewardship Council sustainable  fisheries certification scheme.  The first is a well-researched three-part investigation by Daniel Zwerdling and Margot Williams of NPR aired on MorningEdition and All Things Considered in February 2013.

Zwerdling and Williams highlight several shortcomings of MSC sustainability certification, including the conditional certification of fisheries that are not sustainable but which may become sustainable if identified shortcomings are addressed.  MSC considers that conditional certification provides an incentive to improve.  However, as Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada's Ecology Action Centre in Halifax told Zwerdling and Williams, that’s like telling a child, "You've been really bad, but I'll give you a lollipop, and then I want you to show me how much better you can be…It just doesn't work, right? You've already got the lollipop."

Rupert Howes, the MSC's London-based CEO, defends the lollipop approach and says that there is evidence that conditional certification works.  He points out that if MSC were in the business of only giving lollipops to perfectly behaved fisheries they wouldn’t hand out many lollipops!  

Even if Howes is right about the lollipop effect, the “certified sustainable seafood” label is misleading to consumers.  The MSC blue logo does not necessarily mean that a product comes from a sustainable fishery.  Instead it may come from a fishery, such as the Canadian Atlantic long-line Sword fish fishery, which catches two sharks which are discarded, a significant proportion dead, for each swordfish landed.   Or it may come from a depleted stock such as offshore South African Hake which, if recovering at all, has a long way to go before the fishery can be considered sustainable.  Or it may come from the Ross Sea Toothfish fishery, a fish stock about which not enough is even known to determine what a sustainable catch would be.  These fisheries do not meet widely accepted sustainability conditions, but products from these fisheries display the MSC blue “certified sustainable seafood” sealof approval.

The second contribution to MSC shortcomings is a paperpublished in the current edition of the scientific journal BiologicalConservation by Claire Christian of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, and colleagues.  They reviewed the 19 formal objections to MSC certifications made over the last 15 years in the course of certifying more than 170 fisheries.  These objections are costly to file and are subject to a complicated quasi-legal MSC process which has rejected all but one objection. 

Claire Christian and colleagues conclude from their study that the MSC principles for sustainable fishing are too lenient and discretionary, and allow for overly generous interpretation by third party certifiers (private for-profit consulting companies) and MSC hired adjudicators.  Contrary to MSC claims, MSC-certified fisheries are not all sustainable and certified fisheries are not necessarily improving (the hoped-for lollipop effect).  Even further, they note that genetic detection studies show that not all products with the MSC logo actually come from MSC certified fisheries.  

Consequently they conclude that the MSC label may be misleading both consumers and conservation funders.  They consider that if MSC does not overcome these problems their blue certified sustainable seafood logo will be characterized as nothing more than “bluewashing”.