According to yesterday’s announcement by the MSC, the eco-certification – with a stylized blue fish and checkmark label – identifies “well-managed and sustainable fisheries.” What MSC fails to include is that two sharks die for every swordfish landed, or that the fishery is the leading cause of endangered sea turtle deaths in Atlantic Canada.
Conservation organizations participated in a lengthy stakeholder consultation process led by a certification company hired by the fishery. When environmental concerns were ignored, three groups – the David Suzuki Foundation, the Ecology Action Centre and the Sea Turtle Conservancy – filed a formal objection to the company’s conclusions. An adjudicator ultimately concluded that proper processes had been followed, but declined to evaluate the content of the report or the validity of its conclusions.
“This certification sets a low-bar precedent for pelagic longline fisheries and undermines other MSC certified fisheries that truly deserve recognition in the marketplace,” said Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. He concluded that, “a fishery operating far below best practices and that has significant, ongoing impacts on endangered species should not be framed as an environmentally-friendly choice for consumers who truly care about the health of our oceans.”
The proliferation of environmentally harmful but certified fisheries is an ongoing concern for sustainable seafood advocates, who worry that those fisheries that actually make meaningful efforts to improve can end up branded with the same label as those that have slipped through loopholes in certification systems.
“Unfortunately, the MSC is the best seafood certification standard there is,” says Jordan Nikoloyuk, Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator of the Ecology Action Centre “If this longline swordfish certification is the kind of conclusion that even their process can reach, we have to ask whether any certification process is really worthwhile.”
Retailers such as Loblaw, Whole Foods Market and Wegmans Food Markets have all adopted sustainable seafood policies that include some reliance on MSC certification. Conservation organizations are recommending that retailers take a hard second look at certified products to ensure that they support the retailer’s values and avoid misleading conscientious consumers.
The alternative to Atlantic Canadian longline swordfish is a fishery that catches the same swordfish using low-impact harpoon gear. Marydele Donnelly, Director of International Policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, notes that “some MSC-certified fisheries remain excellent choices and choosing harpoon-caught swordfish will ensure consumers aren’t eating swordfish with huge sides of shark and turtle.” She adds, “U.S. fishermen kill far fewer turtles and sharks than their Canadian counterparts because they have been required to change the way they fish. Since Canada and the MSC won’t address bycatch, we call on U.S. consumers to boycott Canadian swordfish caught on longlines.”