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Certification Pros and Cons

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MSC Certification Pros and Cons
By Michael Souza

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification program is designed to promote worldwide sustainable fisheries.

Pros
Fisheries, suppliers and restaurants which undergo certification earn the right to identify themselves as being sustainable. Sustainable fisheries provide seafood from either fished or farmed sources that do not harm the ecosystem. The sustainable seafood movement, and indeed the "go green" movement became popular recently as the general public have become more environmentally aware.
Certification allows for the use of the MSC label, identifying a business, or a product as being environmentally responsible. Such identification can have a positive economic affect on fishermen, suppliers, restaurants and grocery stores. Major retailers in the United States such as WalMart and Whole Foods carry seafood bearing the label as part of their sustainability strategy.

Cons
Participating in MSC's certification can be cost prohibitive. In order to be considered, a third party certifier approved by the MSC must be hired, an investment that can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000, depending on the size and complexities of the process.

Controversies

Certification: There are few detriments with being identified as eco-friendly. There are, however, concerns associated with the program. Over the last few years, scientists and environmentalists object to many of the procedures and certification of certain species, including:

British Columbian Fraser River sockeye salmon
Eastern Bering Sea Pollock fisheries
Pacific hake
Ross Sea krill
Ross Sea toothfish

According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, fish were certified despite a 64 % decline of the population's spawning biomass between 2004 and 2009, with no documented evidence for recovery, and therefore question why the fishery was certified. The same circumstance also exists in the Ross Sea fisheries.

Scientists at both the University of British Columbia (UBC), and Scripps elaborated their concerns in a recent issue of Nature Magazine. They state the rationale for Ross Sea certification is questionable because the fishery is not for human consumption but instead will be used for farmed fish, pigs and chicken. They further state that fisheries that are being heavily depleted, reliant on high-impact methods such as bottom trawling and that aren't destined for human consumption should be excluded from certification.

The article also notes the current certification system relies on for-profit consultants and presents possible potential conflicts of interest.One fear is that with such high certification costs, does it equate to buying a fishery?

Competition: In the Americas and in Europe, regulatory techniques by the government include limiting the number and capacity of vessels, often without consideration of the economic welfare of commercial fishermen. The addition of MSC's certification makes this relation more complex, especially when one considers that many other nations do not regulate vessel numbers, therein creating a disadvantage.

In addition, poorer countries like those in Africa cannot participate in the program in any practical sense. Most of their fishing fleet is comprised of small individual owners who cannot afford to participate. Thus on a global scale they cannot compete with larger conglomerates. The larger companies will therefore dominate the eco-friendly market.

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