These days, many seafood species are in decline and numerous stocks have already been depleted by overfishing. Various types of tuna and the Fraser sockeye salmon stocks in British Columbia, Canada, are all species under severe threat.
Part of the problem is fraud – and when eco-certifications are awarded without due consideration, without being truly warranted, everyone suffers (that is, the fish and those of us who care for the planet).
The London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) offers eco-certification to fisheries across the globe. It has never refused the certification to any fishery that has completed the certification process. Fishy, isn’t it? And we’re not the only ones who think so. But I’ll talk more about the MSC when I discuss the sockeye salmon stocks below.
Atlantic bluefin tuna
I’ve already blogged about the plight of tuna – bigeye, bluefin, and others – and the efforts of environmental groups like Greenpeace as well as those of entire countries who have called for an international ban on the tuna trade, focusing on bluefin tuna in particular. This call, by the way, has been futile. Some blame Japan and say officials from that country threatened representatives of poor African and Asia-Pacific nations at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Qatar last March, which was a complete failure. Whatever the case, tuna thus remains without official protection.
Fraser sockeye salmon - photo from TreeHugger
Fraser sockeye salmon
This time I want to discuss the plight of the Fraser sockeye salmon stocks in British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.
The MSC has just has just certified three Canadian salmon fisheries as sustainable. As consumer awareness about seafood sustainability is growing worldwide, lots of companies are coveting and applying for the MSC label, which makes their seafood gain popularity in the market. You, Save Eco Destinations reader, may be one of the people who makes efforts to purchase environmentally grown or harvested foods. And you should be aware that the MSC is trying to fool you.
Sockeye salmon fished from the Skeena and Nass Rivers and from Barkley sound on Canada’s Pacific coast will now be sold with MSC’s coveted eco-label worldwide. But Dr Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, believes this is, to put it bluntly, crap. He thus vowed that his organization will be supervising the fisheries to make sure MSC standards are being followed.
“The MSC has just granted eco-certification to three fisheries that routinely overharvest threatened and endangered salmon stocks,” said Orr. “As disturbing as this is, the MSC has placed several conditions for improvement on these fisheries, and we will be watching closely to see if these conditions are enforced.”
Earlier this year, his organization plus two other conservation groups from BC – the David Suzuki Foundation and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust — filed a notice of objection to the MSC’s intent to give the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery eco-certification.
The certification was thus put temporarily on hold pending the verdict of an independent adjudicator, whose decision is expected by Saturday, July 10.
“We objected to the Fraser River certification because we believe it does not meet the MSC’s own minimum standards for certification, and that the management of the fishery is so dysfunctional that the conditions of certification are very unlikely to be met within reasonable timelines,” explained Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild conservation trust. “Overfishing is a serious concern in the Skeena, Nass, and Barkley Sound fisheries, but the situation is not as dire there as it is on the Fraser,” he noted.
Under the MSC’s third-party certification process, firms hired by fishing industry “clients” decide if a fishery meets the MSC’s criteria for eco-certification. Again, I would like to note that no fishery has ever been refused certification after having finished the MSC assessment process and no objection to a certification has ever been upheld.
The three Canadian sockeye salmon fisheries were assessed by the independent organization Moody Marine Ltd, reported CBC News.
Some Fraser River sockeye stocks harvested in the fishery that is about to be MSC certified are classified as “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, whose scientists consider overfishing a key threat.
A commission of inquiry by the Canadian Government recently targeted the Fraser fishery because of a major collapse of the fishery and prevalent concerns over mismanagement.
“Eco-certification can provide a powerful incentive for improvement in the way we manage our fisheries,” declared Aaron Hill of Ecologist Watershed Watch, “but it becomes meaningless when you set the bar too low, and certify unsustainable and mismanaged fisheries. It becomes fraud.”
The assessment for Fraser River began in 2009, when only 1.4 million sockeye salmon returned despite the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) forecast of up to 10.6 million, reported Vancouver Sun.
“It was a catastrophe,” said Sto: lo First Nation fisheries adviser Ernie Crey. “No one knows what happened to those ‘missing’ fish.”
Why the MSC’s certification means nothing
The MSC eco-label isn’t even good enough to meet the sustainability policies of some supermarket chains. Really. Retailer Waitrose refuses to carry MSC-certified hoki from New Zealand.
“The fact that the sustainability policy of one of the UK’s largest food retailers could not be met by fish carrying the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) eco-label proves the council’s ineffectuality,” Greenpeace said last year.
Supermarket chains in the U.S. and Europe have refused to carry New Zealand’s orange roughy, a species that is MSC-certified even though it is endangered. This fish is harvested by bottom trawling, which is bad news for seabed communities and is one of the most environmentally destructive fishing methods in existence.
“This shows that even MSC certification is no guarantee of sustainability,” said Greenpeace New Zealand’s oceans campaigner Karli Thomas.
Greenpeace also believes Friend of the Sea (FOS), another eco-certification scheme, is unreliable. FOS even offers eco-certification for farmed fish. Imagine that! I won’t even get into how wrong that is (in this post).
Greenpeace believes that no certification system for sustainable seafood currently exists that is 100% reliable.
Further, Professor Daniel Pauly at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia and the principal investigator of its Sea Around Us Project accused the MSC last year of acquiescing to pressure from the Walton Family Foundation and Wal-Mart and being complicit to a scam.
“At first, the MSC certified only small-scale fisheries, but lately, it has given its seal of approval to large, controversial companies. Indeed, it has begun to measure its success by the percentage of the world catch that it certifies. Encouraged by a Walton Foundation grant and Wal-Mart’s goal of selling only certified fish, the MSC is actually considering certifying reduction fisheries, with the consequence that Wal-Mart, for example, will be able to sell farmed salmon shining with the ersatz glow of sustainability. (Given the devastating pollution, diseases, and parasite infestations that have plagued salmon farms in Chile, Canada, and other countries, this ‘Wal-Mart strategy’ will, in the long term, make the MSC complicit to a giant scam),” he wrote.
FYI, here are other fisheries hit by the MSC
“The Atlanto Scandian herring fishery is PFA’s third fishery to achieve MSC certification: its North Sea herring and its North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries were certified in 2006 and in 2009.” – FIS reported on July 8.
Others include Alaska flatfish, Eastern Canada swordfish, Norwegian cod and haddock, North Pacific albacore tuna, and the Aker BioMarine krill (Euphausia superba) fishery has been in the Antarctic waters of the Southern Ocean.
So what can you do?
Here are some neat recommendations (except for the MSC one).
Keep up the fight!