Marine Stewardship Council suspends new seafood sustainability standards

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The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), whose blue check mark is a global symbol of seafood sustainability, has been forced to suspend and rework its latest fishing standard less than a year after its launch.

The London-based non-profit is responding to complaints from fishing industry groups around the world, including major players in Atlantic Canada, that the new standard is vague and unworkable.

“There have been challenges and that’s why we’re taking the steps we’re taking today to make sure everything is clear. So people can see the bar they have to meet and can do it effectively,” he said. said Jay Lugar, MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager in Canada.

“We missed the mark on some elements and some clarifications that I think were necessary in version three of the standard, which is why we are undertaking this pause,” Lugar said.

The move is greeted with relief by a Canadian industry group representing several Atlantic fisheries and scorned by an environmental organization.

MSC said it would introduce an updated standard in July and then conduct an independent review of the new evidence requirements, the most controversial element of the new standard.

Previous standard OK for now

“One of the questions to be resolved is whether the framework can be applied more effectively, leading to less complexity and costs. Feedback from (non-governmental organizations) and industry stakeholders will be sought at during the examination,” MSC said. said in a Jan. 31 statement.

The man is sitting in front of a web camera.
Jay Lugar is the Fisheries Outreach Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council in Canada. (CBC)

Fisheries wishing to recertify will be allowed to use the previous standard for another two years, until February 2026, as will new fisheries wishing to enter the MSC program.

The updated version will be mandatory by 2030.

“We all had significant concerns,” said Steve Devitt, director of sustainability at the Atlantic Groundfish Council. It represents five MSC-certified fisheries in the region, including the haddock fishery in southwest Nova Scotia and halibut fishers throughout much of Atlantic Canada.

As an example, he said a new requirement to prove that damage from phantom equipment is “manifestly absent” cannot be met.

Confusion over ghost equipment

“How do you prove that? Well, it’s essentially impossible to prove that a loss, a lost piece of equipment, has no impact. We don’t know how to do that,” Devitt said.

“This particular sentence concerns us and requires clarification. Are you talking about the equipment itself? Are you saying that there should be no loss of equipment?”

the man sits in front of a web camera.
Steve Devitt is Director of Sustainability at the Atlantic Groundfish Council. (CBC)

MSC’s Lugar said confusion over ghost equipment would be corrected.

“That’s a particular element that we’re definitely going to address in this amended version,” he said.

Lugar said improvements can be made “without adjusting the level of sustainability performance.”

“We don’t want to see fisheries disappear just because they’re frustrated. We want them to continue trying to achieve sustainable results,” he said.

Environmental group rejects industry claims

A Halifax environmental group says the Marine Stewardship Council has taken a step back.

Shannon Arnold, associate director of marine programs at the Ecology Action Center, rejects the industry’s claims.

A woman and a man, dressed in waterproof jackets, stand in a boat on the water.
Shannon Arnold, left, is associate director of marine programs at the Ecology Action Center. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

“The requirements these industry groups complain about most, like providing better information about what they get from the water, how they fish, what their impacts are on the environment and endangered species and showing that they have clear evidence that they are even complying with the rules that already exist,” Arnold said.

“This has been a decade in the making. You know, it’s no surprise that this is necessary and a lot of this is achievable.”

Questions around testing the new standard

MSC took four years to develop the new standard after what it called “the most comprehensive review in 25 years.”

But Devitt said it was introduced without testing it “thoroughly” in real fisheries.

Opinions differ on what happened when a certified Canadian angler was tested under the new standard.

Devitt said he encountered a number of issues under the new rules “that caused the overall rating to essentially fail for the fishery.”

Lugar said the test was not an adequate assessment and the results were “misleading.”

“After further dialogue with the people involved in this testing, they realized that in fact it was successful.”

Neither would identify the fishery.

2 year extension

The two-year extension will allow the Maritime lobster fleet to recertify as a sustainable MSC fishery in 2025 under the old standard.

Geoff Irvine of the Lobster Council of Canada said in December that the fishery would not meet the third-party monitoring required in the new standard.

“It’s a benchmark program. But we also know that we may not be able to stick with MSC. So we’re looking at other options and there are active things happening there,” Irvine told CBC News.

Devitt said fisheries in Canada and around the world were wondering if they could meet the new 200-page standard as it is written.

“We are happy to see that the MSC has recognized that it needs to put a stop to this and think about the consequences this could have in the worldview,” he said.

“If all of a sudden there are fisheries that are performing very high compared to the gold standard, because the MSC standard is the gold standard for eco-certification for wild capture fisheries, it It would not be good to see these fisheries change significantly, their performance would be significantly altered without any real change in fishing practice.

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