Over 80% of all seafood stock is overfished, according to the 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA) of the UN. How can we make the shift to fishing responsibly?
Green Times attended the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Seafood conference this week hosted at Intaka Island Eco Centre, Century City. The purpose was to discuss the issue around resource sustainability, particularly seafood, and see “how to make a connection between responsible government and responsible business,” says Martin Purves, MC of the event.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global organization which promotes responsible fishing through a sustainable fishing certification process. Michael Marriott, South Africa’s commercial manager of MSC, took us through the process of acquiring certification and “opportunities to marry prudent environmental practices to market opportunities”.
An eco–label (see below) provides a product with a logo to certify that the product has been produced in accordance with certain environmental standards, warded by an impartial third party. The MSC has “rigorous environmental standards” to recognize good fishing practice. One certificate encompasses two standards:
- Assessing fisheries – an environmental standard to inspect sustainability of stock, “wider ecosystem impact” and effective management.
- Ensure traceability – a chain of custody
There are two types of passes associated with MSC certification and rated out of 100; the unconditional pass (scoring above 80 points) and the conditional pass (between 60 to 80 points). The conditional pass is to encourage improvement in responsible fishing through the assistance of the MSC, before the re-evaluation done five years after the initial assessment.
The journey so far:
- 205 certified fisheries around the world
- 107 under assessment
- >500 pre-assessed
This means 10% of fisheries are under MSC assessment and +/- 21 000 products in 104 countries have been certified with the MSC blue eco-label.
What is driving better management of fisheries? Essentially the conscious consumer has created a demand. Yes, your voice counts so thank you for speaking up! It is up to the market to step into the gap, and the market is responding. This presents the opportunity for suppliers to align themselves with consumers. Thus the MSC works closely with markets to help cater for growing demands from society for sustainable fishing.
Sustainability in a developing world
Martin Purves, Southern Africa MSC Programme Manager, explains how the MSC works to grow sustainable fishing in a developing world. As a developing country, South Africa will recognize the constraints that hinder responsible seafood sourcing, mainly ignorant governance and lack of sustainable management, low literacy levels and poverty. Other developing countries are faced with similar challenges.
“More than half of the world’s seafood is supplied by developing countries,” and this is the area that needs most attention in terms of emphasising sustainable fishing practises.
The MSC addresses these challenges by making the certification programme easily accessible to all fisheries, regardless of size, diversity or region. They plan to use the following tools to help development
- Fishery Improvement Projects (FIP) – to help fisheries to become sustainable
- Facilitate partnerships (like Woolworths)
Helping fisheries not only ensures a stable supply of seafood, but it permeates deeper into sustainable practise. It offers long term employment, food security, decreased poverty, ecosystem resilience, benefitting tourism and thereby the economy.
What are the customer choices?
Justin Smith, Head of Sustainability at Woolworths, shared their perception of how, being a responsible retailer themselves, they viewed the role of retailers in driving responsible seafood sourcing.
“The MSC logo is a reality for customers, a stamp demonstrating that we care about what happens out at sea,” Justin shared. 96% of Woolworths is sourced locally, and customers value the knowledge that they are purchasing their seafood from a responsible retailer. According to Justin, the DNA authenticity is important and builds trust and credibility with their customers.
The key is having strong partnerships and good marketing. Being in a team with SASSI and the MSC helped Woolworths with responsible decision making, training staff and sourcing sustainable seafood suppliers. Many marketing campaigns were also promoted for the benefit of the consumers, to teach them about responsible fishing and what the MSC eco-label means.
“Marketing helped teach customers about the benefits of sustainable sourcing and created awareness among consumers to pressure them into asking the right questions at other retailers or restaurants,” said Justin. It is all about building the conscious consumer.
Why does Woolworths stock seafood that is orange rated by SAPPI, someone asked. Justin replied by saying that “it gives those fisheries incentives to change.” Those existing fisheries will enter the MSC Fishery Improvement Projects and are given a time frame to start fishing sustainably, and if those requirements are not met, they are dropped as a supplier.
Was there a change in consumer behaviour? Justin responded that they noted an increase in awareness not just around seafood, but broadly on sustainability issues. There is a customer base willing to do the right thing and “customers are willing to pay a little more if they know the product is responsibly sourced.”
The driver of sustainable seafood sourcing ultimately comes down to the conscious consumer. As customers, we have the power to compel retailers to become responsible and start sourcing sustainable produce. Do the right thing – look for the SASSI certification and eat only green coded fish. Your choice makes a difference. Thank you for working with us on this.
By Soninke Combrinck