MSC Label Deceiving

A study conducted by a group of researchers claims that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) does not represent what its founders projected when it was initially created in 1997: “a conservation tool which intended to provide ‘the best environmental choice in seafood’ to consumers and to create positive incentives that would improve the status and management of fisheries.’   Concerns about overexploitation of fish and the need to expand fisheries due to the depletion of traditional fisheries, led the market to attempt to create an “eco-label.’

There are three major principles that MSC uses to determine if a fishery is sustainable enough to use the MSC eco-label: “sustainability of the target fish stock; low impacts on the ecosystem; and effective management.’ The researchers examined 19 formal objections (representing 35% of eco-labeled food) to the MSC by conservation groups and discovered that most of these objections had been correct: sustainable practices had not been followed. Note, this could partly be attributed to the practice of fishers paying for the certification process, allowing an element of bias.   Examples included certain fisheries which had high levels of bycatch or were not complying with state or federal laws. Thus the study concluded that “with MSC seafood, the definition [of sustainability] has been repeatedly watered down.’

MSC has received an increasing amount of criticism in the last several years, including from WWF one of their founding organizations. Discoveries of these obvious infractions demonstrate that if they want to be relevant, the MSC needs to do some self-reflection. At this point, their label is misleading to consumers and will most certainly lead to the increased degradation of the maritime environment, just the opposite of their initial mandate.

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