Sustainable and Organic Market Analysis & News
Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation
Updates and Sector News
Main Standards and Initiatives
This guide looks at the market and key standards covering sustainable supply chains and conservation in the area of fisheries and wildlife. It draws on the latest figures and information from lead certification bodies including the Marine Stewardship Council, the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund.
Overfishing now represents a real and immediate threat to global fish stocks. The unsustainable nature of the current fishing industry, coupled with unethical fishing practices, have recently been exposed in documentaries and high-profile campaigns, especially in the UK and US – leading to an increased consumer demand for sustainably-sourced fish.
The leading certification body for sustainable fisheries is the fast-growing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Set up in 1997 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever, the now-independent MSC certifies some 100 fisheries under its environmental standard for sustainable fishing with many more undergoing assessment as of early 2011. The fisheries are dotted around the world, with a particular concentration in Europe and the north-east and north west coastal fishing regions of the US and Canada (see MSC certified fisheries map for current fishery locations). Over 1500 companies are also certified as having met the MSC’s Chain of Custody standard for seafood traceability.
The MSC also certifies fisheries in Asia (Japan and Thailand), Australia, New Zealand and smaller island nations in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. There are currently over 7,200 seafood products carrying the MSC ecolabel, sold in over 70 countries.
The MSC standard looks at the condition of the fish stock of a given fishery, the impact of the fishery on the marine ecosystem and the fishery’s management system. The standard was developed in line with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) 2005 ‘Guidelines for the Eco-Labelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Wild Capture Fisheries’.
While the MSC deals only in wild fisheries, certification for aquaculture – that is the farming of seafood – is available through the Global Aquaculture Alliance. Its Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) is a set of standards for farm-raised seafood which seek to address environmental, food safety and traceability issues for farms, hatcheries and seafood processing plants. Friend of the Sea certifies both fisheries and aquaculture operations, the former in line with the FAO guidelines.
There are also a number of labels claiming that tuna products are ‘dolphin safe’ or ‘dolphin friendly’. However, these labels do not guarantee that dolphins have not been harmed as there is no robust independent verification for the tuna industry, though some labels are more stringent than others. ‘Dolphin safe’ labels which are independently verified, many by the Earth Island Institute, include the Sealord ‘Dolphin Friendly’ label, Dutch company Princes foods, and Greenseas in Australia. The United States Department of Commerce also runs a ‘dolphin safe’ label and EarthTrust runs the Flipper Seal of Approval.
The Rainforest Alliance and WWF have led the way in developing certification which considers wildlife and habitat conservation. The Rainforest Alliance runs ‘certified’ and ‘verified’ programmes for Agriculture, Forestry (in partnership with FSC), Forest Carbon and Tourism. Its Sustainable Agriculture Standard covers over 100 crops and includes provisions for ecosystem conservation and wildlife protection as well as wider environmental issues such as water conservation and soil management.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is involved in multiple sustainability programmes with a strong conservation and wildlife protection element, usually engaging large corporations. These include the Round Table on Responsible Soy and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil which in turn supports the GreenPalm and UTZ sustainable palm certification among others.
For information on certification programmes related to the humane treatment of animals and ‘cruelty free’ products see Ekobai’s market guide to Animal Cruelty Standards.
Role of standards within the market
Countless examples show the value added to products through well-accredited ethical certification. In the area of biodiversity, wildlife and environmental conservation an excellent example of added value is the fast food chain McDonalds, which reported a massive increase in sales of coffee across its European operations thanks to switching to Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. A recent study highlighted the value of the MSC ecolabel – concluding that it helped UK retailers of certified fish achieve a 14 per cent price premium.
As awareness of flash-point issues such as overfishing and palm oil grows, so will demand for certification. Where practical producers and supplier should look to ‘brand name’ certification options such as MSC and Rainforest Alliance, which are the best-recognised in the current market and are more likely to reassure consumers as well as boost sales.