October 4, 2018

Fishy business

In tuna, 800,000 tonnes of industrial boats have just been certified MSC, 10 times more than available before.  Until now, only small local pole and line boats have had the certificate. These are community owned, democratic, open, local and catch fish in the most sustainable manner possible one by one.  The recently certified industrial boats are owned by the huge multinationals of the billion $ tuna industry and are in fact catching fish unsustainably at the same time with the same boats and crew in the same place.  How could this possibly be certified? This is the question asked by two coalitions of NGOs (*), marine experts and pioneer companies like Fish4Ever. There is massive by-catch in this fishery, it is heavily subsidised and it even cuts the fins off sharks – a practise that is illegal almost everywhere.

Tuna fisheries are not the only ones to be heavily criticised: Pollock, Orange Roughy, Swordfish fisheries and many others have been attacked as have certain methods such as trawling and dredging that are seen by many marine experts as inherently unsustainable. WWF, founder of the MSC, an ex UK fishery minister and even many of the better certified fisheries have joined the clamour for reform.

Charles Redfern, founder of Fish4Ever, the only organic fish brand that is actively engaged in the question of sustainability at sea, adds: “We understand 90-95% of the volume of MSC fish comes from large industrial boats. In the case of tuna, this could kill the pole and line industry. In Europe, artisan fisheries have decreased from 200,000 to 80,000 in the last decade. By giving the word sustainable to the big boats, you take it away from the small ones – it is a dagger to the heart.  Not all big boats are bad but as general rule, small boats fish far more ecologically and have a positive social impact, supporting fragile coastal communities and multiple livelihoods.”

The problem is when major fish conglomerates and the multi-national supermarket groups consistently advertise their sustainability credentials on TV and in digital media via the MSC logo, the consumer risks once more to be duped by corporate interests.   There is a different way but it is not well supported at present:  Artisan fisheries need to be encouraged and nurtured and only the very best of the industrial fishing should be allowed.   A transfer of resources and subsidy, which currently falls massively into the hands of industrials, needs to support small scale fishing.  Fish4Ever together with colleagues in the Slow Food movement are looking at developing a better logo to redress the balance  and as things stand now are not able to endorse the MSC’s blue tick.

(*) Coalition of Make Stewardship counts and On The Hook.   For more information on problematic certifications follow the link: https://changingmarkets.org/media/publications-landing/


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