The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) partnered with more than 50 international animal protection and conservation groups in January, sending a letter that questions the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seafood certification program, specifically about the way in which the organization deals with the bycatch of marine mammals and sharks in global fishing operations.
“We’re not the first ones to raise concerns about the certification of MSC. A number of organizations have objected to fisheries in the past, and I think it’s a growing concern,” Kate O’Connell, AWI marine wildlife consultant, says. “We are finding certifications are taking place either without really good in-depth information on levels of bycatch of species like sharks and whale, or even where there might be information available, but they still go ahead and certify in hopes that they will be able to improve the fishery.”
The MSC notes that to be certified, fishing operations must be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function, and diversity of the ecosystem. This requires reducing bycatch, the incidental catch of non-target species such as other fish species, juveniles, corals, marine mammals, reptiles, or birds.
“MSC certified fisheries ensure that these incidences are investigated and minimized wherever possible so that they do not present a risk to the populations of these species,” says Jon P. Corsiglia, U.S. media manager for the MSC. “For example, the Western Australia rock lobster fishery modified its fishing technique to prevent sea lions from being trapped in lobster pots.”
Certification to the MSC Fisheries Standard is voluntary. It is open to all fisheries involved in the wild-capture of marine or freshwater organisms, which includes most types of fish and shellfish, of any size, type or location.
Since the inception of the MSC in 1999, the organization has periodically released studies of the performance of MSC certified fisheries.
About Keith Loria
A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as food, sports, business, theater, and government. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at Rinkside, BCA Insider, and Soap Opera Digest. Reach him at email@example.com.