The New York Times has picked up the story about the decision to certify Antarctic krill as sustainable over the objections of ASOC. The story contributes to the growing sense that the Marine Stewardship Council is not as sustainable as it would like to appear. The basic objection many of us have to even considering certifying fisheries for species low on the food chain is that it is risky and has a higher potential to wreak havoc on an ecosystem in case of environmental fluctuations or mistakes in scientific predictions. For many species like krill, the harvest doesn't even feed humans, but feeds farmed fish or is turned into fish oil for nutritional supplements, raising the question of whether it is ethical to put an ecosystem at risk to provide the well-off with salmon or nutraceuticals. Of course, MSC will say these issues are beyond its reach - for its process to be fair, it must certify fisheries that meet its standards without regard to more subjective or philosophical issues such as these. All its independent assessors can do is look at the science (which as you might expect is never 100%) and make a determination.
Too bad the article didn't mention that there are other omissions in MSC methodology that make its claims of sustainability questionable. Such as its decision not to classify bottom trawling as a destructive fishing practice that disqualifies a fishery from certification eligibility. I suppose MSC would argue that bottom trawling, which is like forest clearcutting except much more destructive, isn't completely catastrophic in the sense that you can do it without ruining the ecosystem (although you can also ruin the ecosystem!). And that it's better for bottom trawlers to work towards MSC certification, which would mean that they are at least following some higher standards, than using whatever fishing procedures they want. But then what motivation is there for operators to use the best of best practices or develop alternatives to bottom trawling? MSC needs to realize that if it sticks to "good enough" and "trying hard" as standards they might help shape up a few bad actors but global fishing isn't going to become "sustainable." It's not going to encourage the rethinking of our approach to fisheries and fishing that will be necessary to ensure productive harvests for years to come. If certification is really all about preserving fish stocks and not about helping fishing operators make more money then MSC needs to listen to conservationists instead of dismissing us as a bunch of overly critical fish-huggers.
However, ASOC is pleased to see that Whole Foods has made the decision to pull krill oil from its shelves. Whole Foods is also working with the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to label its seafood instead of just relying on MSC labels. Likewise, Wegmans stores have decided not to sell seafood from the Ross Sea, which is the most intact marine ecosystem on the planet. People might say that these decisions are not based on pure science - pure science says there are lots of krill, and only a small bit is being taken. But this approach is inadequate. Take the so-called "krill paradox" that when numbers of baleen whales (krill predators) decline, so do numbers of krill. Turns out that whale excrement has nutrients that encourage phytoplankton growth, which feeds krill, which could explain the connection. So if we humans don't even really understand basic predator-prey relationships like these, are we being smart to make decisions without allowing for the possibility that we could be really, really wrong? Good for these retailers for not caving into the narrower interpretations of sustainability.