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Eco-babble: Seafood eco-labels not always reliable, says study

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  • Pamela Rice
    [EXCERPT: Many of the Marine Stewardship Council s claims are eco-babble and very misleading .... .... Much of the krill caught is used to feed farmed
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2010
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      [EXCERPT: "Many of the Marine Stewardship
      Council's claims are "eco-babble" and very
      misleading .... " " .... Much of the krill
      caught is used to feed farmed fish, pigs and
      chicken and "any fishery undertaken for fish meal
      should not be viewed as responsible or
      sustainable, and should not qualify for MSC
      certification.... " ]


      Fish stories: Seafood eco-labels not always reliable, says study

      By Margaret Munro
      Postmedia News
      September 1, 2010

      VANCOUVER - So much for guilt-free seafood.

      An international program run by the Marine
      Stewardship Council purports to certify only
      sustainably harvested fish but is "failing" to
      protect the environment and needs radical reform,
      says a highly critical report released Wednesday.

      Many of the MSC's claims are "eco-babble" and
      very misleading, Jennifer Jacquet, a University
      of B.C. researcher and co-author of the report,
      said this week as she checked out the seafood at
      Capers, a trendy grocery store in Vancouver.

      Fresh halibut was selling for $49.90 a kilogram
      under one of the council's aqua blue signs
      guaranteeing "sustainability" and "a sound
      environmental choice."

      The certification program is run by the
      non-profit council based in London. The MSC's
      blue "eco-labels" can be found on seafood sold at
      Capers, Whole Foods Markets and Walmart in North
      America and many stores in Europe.

      Controversy has been brewing over the
      certification program for years but the MSC's
      recent decision to slap its eco-label on an
      Antarctic krill fishery prompted the researchers
      to spell out their concerns in the journal Nature
      this week. Jacquet is a resource management
      specialist who authored the report with noted UBC
      fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly and colleagues
      in the U.S. and Italy.

      In May, the council certified the krill fishery,
      despite scientific evidence that suggests the
      shrimp-like creatures at the base of the
      Antarctic food chain are in decline. Much of the
      krill caught is used to feed farmed fish, pigs
      and chicken and "any fishery undertaken for fish
      meal should not be viewed as responsible or
      sustainable, and should not qualify for MSC
      certification," the researchers say.

      Co-author Paul Dayton, at the University of
      California's Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
      said the krill certification "is an embarrassment
      as it flies in the face of existing data and
      denies any sense of precautionary management."

      The MSC argues that the less than one per cent of
      krill is under fishing pressure.

      The report also takes issue with the way the
      council's eco-labels adorn fish that have
      undergone serious declines.

      The U.S. trawl fishery for pollock in the eastern
      Bering Sea is the largest certified fishery, with
      an annual catch of one million tonnes. "It was
      certified in 2005, and recommended for
      recertification this summer, despite the fact
      that the spawning biomass of those pollock fell
      by 64 per cent between 2004 and 2009," the report

      "Similar declines in biomass" have occurred in
      Pacific hake, the report says, noting that the
      hake "was certified in 2009 despite a population
      decline of 89 per cent since a peak in the late

      The researchers say "certification should not be
      granted until a fishery is shown to be actually

      The council acknowledges the hake and pollock
      have seen "declines" but insist the fisheries
      deserve certification. "The stock is rebuilding
      and continued improvements in Alaska pollock
      biomass is expected as favourable conditions
      prevail," said Mike DeCesare, director of MSC
      communications in North America.

      The council was created in 1997 by the World
      Wildlife Fund and Unilever, one of the world's
      largest seafood retailers. It has certified 94
      fisheries which account for about seven per cent
      of the global catch, including several in
      Canadian waters.

      It is now assessing 118 more fisheries, including
      the Antarctic toothfish, which is sold as Chilean
      sea bass. Many environmental groups oppose
      certification of the toothfish, and with good
      reason, says the Nature report: "Almost nothing
      is known about this fish: no eggs or larvae have
      even been collected."

      Jacquet, Pauly and their colleagues are calling
      on the council to adopt more stringent standards,
      crack down on its "arguably loose interpretation"
      of sustainability, and alter its process "to
      avoid a potential financial incentive to certify
      large fisheries."

      If the current certification "scheme" doesn't
      undergo "major reform" they say, there are
      "better, more effective ways" to spend the MSC's
      $13 million-a-year budget, such as eliminating
      harmful fisheries subsidies, or creating
      marine-protected areas. Such measures could "have
      a real impact on the water," said Jacquet.

      She said the reality is that there is not enough
      seafood to meet the current global appetite.
      Consumers need to accept the need to "scale back
      on consumption," she said, and at the same time
      "hassle" politicians and industry to take
      concrete steps to better protect fisheries.

      At Capers, the staff selling fish under the MSC
      label referred queries to Vicki Foley, in public
      relations at Whole Foods Market, which owns
      Capers. Foley did not return calls before
      deadline. A salesclerk said that Capers is no
      longer selling supplements made from krill
      because of "ethical" concerns. But she said she
      could special-order the krill supplements if
      customers want to buy them.

      DeCesare, at the MSC, said the report in Nature
      is the "personal opinion" of the authors. The
      council, he said, bases its certification on
      "rigorous and independent science."

      "There is no question that improvements in the
      MSC standard will continue to enhance its
      effectiveness," DeCesare said by email. "But the
      facts also demonstrate there is no question that
      for more than a decade the MSC, along with its
      many partners, has been contributing
      significantly to environmental progress around
      the world."

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