Photo: Ecolabel credibility put to the test

Dr. Scott Wallace in the field

By Scott Wallace, Sustainable fisheries analyst

The Atlantic swordfish fishery is one of several Canadian fisheries currently seeking a highly coveted — and increasingly controversial — ecolabel certification for their products. Offered by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit organization based in the UK, the label is meant to help consumers identify seafood that is sustainably caught and allow them to make environmentally friendly choices about the food they buy.

As a sustainable fisheries analyst, I was surprised to see one of Canada's most egregious fisheries apply for this ecolabel. The David Suzuki Foundation submitted a full report last July as to why the longline fishery does not meet the sustainability standards outlined by the MSC - largely because of its serious problem with bycatch, or the unintentional capture of endangered or threatened turtles and sharks. For every 100 kg of swordfish or other marketable species brought to the dock, about 70 kg of other marine animals are discarded overboard. It's a problem that has landed the Atlantic longline fishery on consumer redlists around the world, and has even been recognized by the federal government.

In the upcoming months, the public will hear the results of this application and whether or not the Atlantic longline fishery is considered sustainable by the MSC's standards. The MSC program aims to encourage better fishing practices by creating demand for sustainably caught seafood. By certifying the longline fishery, the MSC would be setting a poor standard for global pelagic fisheries and undermining the credibility of its own label.

Ecolabelling can already be confusing to consumers. Certifying a fishery that kills endangered sharks and turtles in very high numbers is not only confusing, but may also diminish any motivation from industry and government to actually engage in the necessary reform processes required to make the fishery more sustainable.

January 14, 2010

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