In contrast with other sustainable food standards, few legal basis and institutional standards exist for a sustainable catch and preparation of fish products. Most of the certifications available are private standards for a sustainable fishery, with different requirements or only targeting a specific aspect of sustainability.
We will today focus on one of the oldest and most common sustainability standard for fishery: the MSC Standard.
The MSC - Marine Stewardship Council
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was founded in 1997 by the environmental organisation World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the food company Unilever. They developed together an international standard for sustainable fishery, the MSC label. Since 1999, the MSC is an independent organisation and delivers the established label for sustainable fishery. According to the MSC, there are currently more than 23.000 MSC labelled fish and seafood products in the world.
The MSC mainly focuses on the sustainability aspect of wild fishery. This standard does not mention any social aspect or requirements regarding the fish slaughter or preparation.
The MSC offers two standards for different steps within the supply chain. In order to display the MSC label, both certificates must be provided.
The MSC environmental standard
The MSC environmental standard is addressed to fishing companies working at the top of the supply chain. It is based on the three following principles:
- Fish population sustainability: current and future population should be protected and preserved from overfishing. This criteria goes for the protection of the biodiversity and the gender distribution.
- Protection of the seas ecosystems: Sea creatures and ecosystems (including water birds) should be preserved and protected from bycatch and overfishing.
- Efficient management: fishing companies have to run a responsible management system and to follow local and national regulation as well as international agreements.
The MSC traceability standard
The MSC traceability standard is directed to companies preparing fish products along the supply chain and guarantees transparency and traceability from the production to the end consumer. Purchased fish must demonstrably come from certified suppliers complying with the MSC environmental standards. To reach this requirement, a complete and extensive documentation is needed to follow the entire supply chain.
The MSC certification
To get the MSC certification, the certifying company must successfully pass a control made by an independent inspection body. Important documents will be checked and samples will also be made and analysed to determine if the requirements are met.
Once the certification has been delivered, a monitoring audit will be annually operated. The certification is valid 5 years long and is renewable at the end of this period.
The MSC Label
To display the MSC Label on a final product, manufacturing companies must document and verify that their suppliers follow all environmental standards and are MSC certified. Manufacturing companies also must comply themselves with the traceability standards requirements in order to use the MSC label. Regarding the use of the label itself, there are several rules from the MSC organisation to respect and a yearly use fee is due.
Further sustainability standards
- Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC): also founded by WWF, this standard regulates sustainable aquacultures.
- EU Organic certification: general organic standard containing basic principles of sustainable fishery with much less rules and requirements for fishes as for other food products included in the certification.
- Friend of the Sea: private standard for fish and seafood from organic aquaculture.
- Naturland Fisch: private sustainability standard for organic aquaculture and sustainable fishery.
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