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Seafood-Sustainability Leader Shuns Fish Farms

Marine Stewardship Council declines to audit the sustainability of aquaculture (fish-farming) operations

by Craig Weatherby

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to scrutinizing the sustainability of wild fisheries.

In a unique green-business partnership, the MSC was established in 1997 by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, the world's largest buyer of seafood.

And ever since becoming fully independent in 1999, the MSC has been praised for its integrity and effectiveness.

As of September 2007, more than seven percent of the world's edible wild-capture fisheries were engaged in the program, either as MSC-certified fisheries or as fisheries undergoing assessment of their compliance with the MSC's strict sustainability standards.

MSC rejects fish farms as subjects for sustainability audits

Fisheries that meet MSC standards are declared sustainable… a designation with considerable cachet.

So industrial fish farmers were no doubt disappointed to learn that the MSC Board has decided neither to examine nor certify the sustainability of aquaculture operations.

Here's how the MSC Board expressed its decision in today's press release (MSC 2008):

“The Board believes that the MSC should remain focused on its core mission; to use our eco-labeling and wild capture fishery certification program to help transform how the world's seas and oceans are worked, and to influence the choices people make when buying seafood, so that responsible management is rewarded.”

(Note: We agree with this approach, which undermines the bizarre advice to stop eating all Salmon, made in a New York Times Op-Ed article we critiqued last week: see “New York Times Essay Confuses Wild Salmon Issues... and Consumers.”)

“Together with its partners in the seafood industry, the MSC is helping to create a market for sustainable wild caught fish that is serving as an incentive for more and more fisheries to seek independent, third-party certification. It is the Board's belief that accelerating the delivery of the MSC's existing program must remain the priority for its work.”

While the MSC did not close the door fully to future certification of industrial fish farms, we are glad that for now, they will remain focused on the preservation of wild fisheries.

Vital Choice offerings certified sustainable by the MSC

All five wild Alaskan Salmon fisheries are currently certified sustainable by the MSC (Sockeye, King, Silver, Chum, and Pink).

In other words, the MSC finds that stocks are healthy, and that the practices and regulations in place are sufficient to protect all five species from over-fishing or habitat destruction.

Currently, the MSC also certifies the sustainability of the fisheries that supply our Alaskan Sablefish (Black Cod), Alaskan Halibut, and troll-caught North Pacific Albacore Tuna.

Last but not least, the MSC certifies that these Vital Choice Salmon products come from sustainable Alaskan fisheries:

  • Wild Red™ canned Alaskan Salmon*
  • Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Oil
  • Silver and King Salmon portions
  • Whole Alaskan Sockeye Salmon fillets
  • Smoked Alaskan Sockeye and King Salmon
  • Pouched Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

*Three of our Wild Red™ canned products contain Alaskan Sockeye: Easy-Open 7.5 oz. Traditional, Canned/Smoked 5.5. oz, and Skinless-Boneless Pouched 6 oz. The rest contain wild Sockeye harvested sustainably from nearby Canadian waters (Our upcoming shipment of MSC-certified 7.5 oz No-Salt-Added Wild Red™ is from Alaska, but won't be in stock for a while).

For information about the sustainability of the fisheries that supply all other Vital Choice fish and shellfish, see “Our Sustainability Stance.