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MSC on the hook over seafood standard

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has been urged to commission an independent review of its standard after campaigners called into question the rigour of the scheme.

The On the Hook campaign group, whose members include Blue Marine Foundation and Environmental Justice Foundation, claims the MSC has set the bar for sustainability too low to effectively fulfil its role in certifying seafood products.

The group is calling for a “full, external, independent and forensic review” of the MSC standard and operations to address what it describes as “growing international concerns” and to “restore commercial and consumer confidence in the scheme”.

In an open letter to the MSC leadership team, campaign signatories expressed their belief the MSC has a fundamentally important role to play in increasing the adoption of sustainable fishing practices.

However the letter continued: “While many fisheries certified by MSC do represent genuinely sustainable options, still too many do not. Over the years, MSC has attracted growing criticism, as well as several formal objections, for its certification of destructive fisheries, including but not limited to deep-sea bottom-trawling fisheries, fisheries deliberately targeting marine mammals, and fisheries with high levels of bycatch.”

The group said this raised “fundamental questions as to whether the bar for certification is set high enough for the MSC ecolabel to serve its purpose of both identifying and subsequently incentivising improved sustainability practices on the water”.

It also raised concerns over the speed, effectiveness and external engagement regarding MSC action on issues such as compartmentalisation, where unsustainable fishing practices continue alongside certified activity, FAD (fish aggregating device) management and shark finning.

It criticised too a lack of “visibility or transparency on the decision-making process” and has called on MSC to undertake a full independent review of its standard and operations, commissioned from outside the organisation.

“It is not enough for MSC to continue addressing issues so slowly and incrementally,” said Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation. “Many campaigners have dedicated significant time and capacity to engaging with MSC on consultations and concerning certifications, but the frequency with which these arise suggests there are fundamental underlying issues which need to be addressed first.”

In response, an MSC spokesperson told The Grocer it rejected claims it only allowed limited stakeholder involvement and that a review was required.

“Stakeholder engagement is in our DNA,” the spokesperson said. “Our present review of the fisheries standard – which determines where the bar for certification is set – has involved an unprecedented level of consultation.

“We are in the midst of public consultations on key aspects of the standard review, including far-reaching proposals on endangered, threatened and protected species as well as proposed new requirements on shark finning. Inputs from stakeholders are vital to inform any changes made to the fisheries standard, and we would urge the members of On The Hook to engage with this multi-stakeholder process.”