Researchers propose that unsustainable items be suspended from MSC certification
New study shows limitations of MSC's blue labels for some northeastern Atlantic fish stocks. Many European fish stocks are overfished or are under threat of being overfished. A recent study reveals that more than ten fish stocks in the northeastern Atlantic are being exploited beyond sustainable levels.
Undertaken by scientists from the Cluster of Excellence ‘The Future Ocean’, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the University of Kiel (CAU), together with international colleagues, the study examines the reliability of the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification for northeastern Atlantic fish stocks. The results of the study is published in the current issue of the Marine Policy journal.
The researchers examined 31 northern European fish stocks in the northeastern Atlantic that have been certified under the MSC guidelines as being sustainable and well managed. Dr Rainer Froese from GEOMAR said that the official stock assessments and the basis for MSC certification were taken into account.
Eleven of the stocks were found to be exploited beyond their maximum sustainable levels. In addition, four of these stocks, due to their small quantities, were fished beyond safe biological limits. Nevertheless, they received the certification as the MSC had expected the stocks to improve once they were in the programme. However, this was not the case. Even after an average of four years (specifically one to ten years) of MSC certification, there was no significant improvement in the fishing pressures or size of the fish stocks of these companies.
Based on the data from the last certified year, seven stocks were overfished (comprising 44 percent of the stocks with available data) while five were outside of safe biological limits.
“Our study shows that certification does not effectively limit fishing practices. The permitted catches of three of the stocks were exceeded by up to 50 percent,” said Professor Martin Quaas from the Institute of Economics at the Christian Albrechts University. Although MSC certification can lead to sustainable fishing practices if properly adhered to, the researchers concluded that without any effective control of the industry, it is difficult to live up to the claims of being a model fishery.
Presently, the MSC is unable to legally enforce the rules at the European and international levels; the certification is voluntary. “Any company can use the term ‘sustainable fishing’ freely. There are no controlled standards for environmental labelling in this area,” said Professor Nele Matz-Lück from Walther-Schücking Institute for International Law at CAU. She added that although ecolabels for overfished stocks might be legal, they were not justifiable.
The researchers recommended that companies that overfish or have unsafe stock sizes be immediately suspended from the certification. “Fish products with the MSC label are preferred by consumers, so for the certification to continue to enjoy the confidence of consumers, the MSC needs to improve on its credibility,” said lead author Dr Silvia Opitz from GEOMAR.
The MSC is an international, independent and nonprofit organisation that certifies that a company’s fish and seafood products comes from sustainable fisheries. Its blue seal on the packaging of seafood products is used by consumers to make environmental-friendly buying decisions.
Further Information: www.geomar.de