Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Trouble for MSC

Just last week, the NY Times reported on the controversy over the Marine Stewardship Council's certification of New Zealand hoki fisheries. Now the MSC's in trouble again, this time with fisheries scientists Daniel Pauly and Jennifer Jacquet (whose Guilty Planet blog is linked from this one) because of its decision to consider certifying the Peruvian anchovy fishery. If you think that "consider" doesn't sound so terrible, think again. By the time a fishery enters the public certification process, it's already consulted with an independent certifier to figure out if it's likely to get approved. The assessment process is expensive, so it seems as though once a fishery is in the public assessment phase, it's getting confirmed. As ASOC staffers have been reading official analyses done by MSC certifiers on other fisheries, it seems that the certifier often finds ways to give fisheries passing scores, no matter what anyone (including the experienced scientists who review their reports) has to say.

Pauly and Jacquet object to the proposed certification of the fishery because much of the catch goes to feed farmed fish and land livestock - a process which is usually seen as fairly wasteful given that several pounds of fish are needed for each pound of livestock or farmed fish produced. And it's not as if anchovies are inedible otherwise. The domestication of ruminants was extremely useful for early agricultural humans - regardless of the pounds in-pounds out comparisons - because humans just can't digest pounds and pounds of grass, and ruminants can. So they convert, in a sense, inedible things into usable protein. Anchovies, on the other hand, are quite edible, and full of protein. As the authors point out, Peru has a serious problem with child malnutrition and it makes little sense to export a source of good protein when people are starving. Protein isn't just for building nice biceps, since protein-deficient children usually end up with low IQs in addition to physical ailments.

The problem with MSC, the authors point out, is perhaps not that anchovies are overfished (it appears that they aren't) or that fishing methods are harming the environment, but that the wasteful practice of feeding farmed fish (or livestock) with fishmeal is not taken into account. This is yet another problem with the MSC standards. It increasingly appears that these standards simply aren't tough enough to ensure that certified fisheries are held to the highest standards. It seems to me that any fishery that can make a somewhat plausible argument that it meets the standards gets to use the label. The certifiers are working on behalf of the fishers - not the ocean. Since MSC is supposedly about protecting marine species first and foremost, why does it seem that MSC ignores so many of these kind of issues? MSC certification cannot be considered credible if it is so easily obtained, with no thought given to the broader impacts of certification. More here.

1 comment:

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