Environmental standards and the global fishing industry (Jan 2011)

Jan 2011

For a number of years, environmentalists have been campaigning against the practice of drift net fishing. In 1992 a UN moratorium came into effect on all large-scale drift net fishing. Although many nations were quick to comply with the UN resolution, others managed to find 'loopholes' to get around it. These nations took advantage of the fact that the UN Resolution was not specific about what constitutes 'large-scale' drift net fishing. A WWF report in 2003 showed that illegal drift net practices were still continuing in the Mediterranean and other areas.


Pressure groups realized that international legislation would have limited impact due to difficulties in national implementation and also loop holes and issues with enforcement.  Voluntary standards combined with reputation-driven pressure on companies led to the creation of third-party audited industry standards.   Initiated by WWF and global food company Unilever, the Marine Stewardship Council in 1996 which has since developed into the leading B2B supply chain standard for the global fishing sector, akin to the FSC standard in global forestry.


The MSC has developed a standard, known as the MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing. It is the only internationally recognized set of environmental principles to assess whether a fishery is well managed and sustainable.   Like the FSC forestry standard, the MSC is also attempting to gain brand recognition among the buying public under its “cook, eat and enjoy” program.  The scheme lists around fifty fisheries around the world, along with hundreds of suppliers and restaurants stocking fish caught in these regions.  Another sustainable fishery standards is the Friend of the Sea, which was initiated in 2005. It is administered by an NGO that approves products if target stocks are not overexploited and ensures that fisheries use fishing methods which do not impact the seabed. The Marine Aquarium Council  aims to conserve coral reefs and other marine ecosystems by creating standards and certification for those engaged in the collection and care of ornamental marine life from reef to aquarium.


Meanwhile efforts to legislate fisheries on a global level continue.  The 175 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will be meeting over in early 2010 to discuss their position regarding a temporary trade ban on Atlantic blue fin tuna. 

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