For more than 20 years, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has protected the world’s oceans from overfishing. Today, the organization educates the public on the importance of choosing sustainable seafood with its blue fish label program. We look at the MSC’s beginnings and the role it plays in today’s fishing industry.
What is the MSC?
This non-profit, international organization was set up to safeguard seafood supplies and protect marine ecosystems. The MSC’s mission is to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy seafood by ensuring that the world’s oceans stay full of life.
The council seeks to improve industry practices and standards through its fishery certification and ecolabel programs, which recognize and reward fisheries that adopt sustainable fishing practices. The MSC also works with partner organizations in the sector to transform the seafood market to a sustainable industry. Finally, the MSC seeks to inform the public by promoting traceability, which enables consumers to make more informed choices about seafood.
What is the MSC’s blue fish label?
The blue fish label applies to wild-caught fish from fisheries that have been certified as meeting the MSC Fisheries Standard: a set of specific, science-based sustainable fishing practices.
In order to receive MSC certification, a fishery must be independently assessed. Moderators look at the fishery’s impact on local wild fish populations and surrounding ecosystems.
The MSC examines how the fishery handles fish after it is caught as well. Indeed, the MSC follows the entire journey of the fish, from the ocean to the plate. MSC-certified seafood is clearly labelled. In this way, the program promotes transparency and traceability, so that end products can be traced back to a certified fishery.
To ensure that participating fisheries comply with MSC standards, the MSC implements random DNA tests on products. The organization recognizes the importance of public trust and strives to ensure that, when we purchase fish at the supermarket, we get exactly what it says on the label.
The MSC blue fish label program meets standards set by ISEAL, a global association for sustainable fishing. The program also adheres to fishing industry best practices established by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO).
In 2017, the MSC became the first international global seafood certification program recognized for credibility and rigor by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI).
How can we make fishing sustainable?
To make fishing sustainable, essentially we need to ensure that we leave enough fish in the ocean to maintain fish stocks in perpetuity. We also need to make sure that communities that depend on fishing to make a living can continue to thrive.
The MSC’s Fisheries Standard examines three key principles in assessing whether a fishery is sustainable:
- Fish stocks: Are sufficient numbers of fish left behind to populate future generations of a species? The MSC safeguards stock levels to ensure that they are not overfished, so fish populations can remain at sufficient levels to maintain the species’ health and productivity.
- Environmental impact: What are the ecological effects of the fishery’s activities? Fishing activities are carefully monitored. Some activities can have a catastrophic effect on local environments. The MSC carefully monitors participant fisheries’ activities to ensure that they adhere with best practices to protect local habitats and non-target species.
- Fisheries management: The MSC sets industry standards that certified fisheries must comply with. Operations must be well managed and comply with all relevant legislation, and they must be capable of adapting to meet changing environmental circumstances.
Why do our oceans need protection?
The fishing industry is in crisis. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing are jeopardizing marine ecosystems all over the world.
Some people wonder if the best response to these problems is to simply stop eating fish. However, this is not a practical solution—and could actually make things worse. Making responsible choices can reward and incentivize fisheries to adopt better, more sustainable practices. In this way, we can safeguard fishing communities and their livelihoods, and ensure that future generations inherit oceans teeming with life.
Over 1 billion people worldwide rely on fish and seafood as part of their diet. Many of these people live in the world’s poorest countries. If we stopped eating fish, we would not only deprive millions of people of a nutrient-rich, economical protein source, but potentially take away the livelihood of fishing communities all over the world.
The good news is, through initiatives like MSC’s blue fish label, fisheries are incentivized to adopt best practices and reduce the environmental impact of commercial fishing. To give one example, by adopting MSC certification standards, a South African hake fishery recently achieved a 99% reduction in seabird bycatch.
Wild-caught seafood and fish have a lower carbon footprint in comparison with many other protein sources. For instance, while cattle ranchers and farmers must clear land and use precious resources to grow food for beef cattle, fisheries do not.
Making fishing sustainable is a complex endeavor that will take time and commitment to accomplish. The MSC is committed to helping fisheries protect their future business and preserve wild fish stocks for future generations.