MSC Seafood Futures Forum: Is the change toward sustainability happening fast enough?

Are NGOs doing enough to drive the change?

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The Marine Stewardship Council is the world's largest fisheries eco-label program, with a mission of addressing the problem of unsustainable fishing, and safeguarding seafood supplies for the future.

Learn more at the MSC's upcoming Seafood Futures Forum, held during the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels on Wednesday April 25.


Amanda Nickson, director of international fisheries at The Pew Charitable Trusts, talks about the role of NGOs and other stakeholders in ensuring global fisheries are managed at sustainable levels ahead of the MSC's Seafood Futures Forum.

How important is the sustainability of the seafood industry?

AN: Ensuring sustainability across the seafood industry is a critical goal to help both the environment and food security. The Pew Charitable Trusts has a portfolio of programs specifically working toward improvements in international fisheries management, recognizing the importance of healthy oceans to the continuation of life on our planet.

Is there an awareness of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 among NGOs?

AN: We have seen a high level of awareness of the sustainable development goal for the NGO community.

What do you think about the SDGs – do they go far enough?

AN: The goals are important in setting a global benchmark, but the critical issue is implementation: How do me make sure we reach the goal? While there is progress, we certainly need a faster pace among governments and managers around the world in order to actually ensure sustainability.

Are there other things that we should be prioritizing?

AN: The overall priority in fisheries needs to be ensuring that there is an effective system of global governance. We want to see harvest strategies in place for commercially fished stocks, and we want to ensure there are compliance mechanisms in place so that everyone is following the rules, but at the moment there are still significant challenges in fisheries management, with 85 percent of global stocks either fished to the brink of sustainability or overfished.

Securing an effective system of global governance is necessary to end and prevent illegal fishing, so that we don't see stocks being exploited beyond the point of sustainability, and so that we can make sure that the ecosystem and other species are not adversely affected by fishing.

Do you think NGOs are united in working towards these goals?

AN: We believe this issue is important to many NGOs.

What is Pew doing/focusing on to meet the SDGs and SDG 14 in particular

AN: Pew’s international environment program is contributing toward the achievement of this goal: We have a portfolio of work that looks specifically at improving fisheries governance globally and ensuring the establishment and implementation of harvest strategies.

We have a program of work that looks at ending illegal fishing by helping to build enforcement mechanisms . We have a program of work to create marine protected areas and looking into how we ensure protection of ocean habitats and biodiversity. We also have a program of work that looks specifically at the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic region.

What needs to change for the fishing industry, and with other stakeholders like governments and the retail sector, to collectively achieve the SDGs by 2030?

AN: The critical players here at the moment are the managers involved in developing and implementing harvest strategies or putting in place management and regulations in fisheries. The industry also has a very important role to play in looking down their supply chain and saying: How can we make sure that we are supporting appropriate management and regulations?

How can we make sure we are letting government, decision makers, and the communities and fishermen we work with know that we believe that ensuring sustainability is critical to the future of our business?

Sometimes there is perceived divide between what is good for the industry versus what may be desirable in policies, but we believe it is important that governments and decision makers come together with industry to work toward sustainability. Regulations and enforcement must be sufficient to stop illegally caught fish from entering the market and to make sure that every fish that comes through the supply chain is caught from a sustainably managed fishery.

Do you think that change is happening fast enough in the seafood industry to meet this deadline?

AN: I think we would need to see an increase in pace to achieve these goals by 2030. We have seen increased interest from the fishing sector in opportunities like Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, however we believe that pace of positive change needs to be accelerated if we want to achieve this goal.

Are NGOs pushing too hard and too fast?

AN: As representatives of civil society, NGOs have an important role to play in advocating for implementation of actions toward sustainability. This SDG goal was set by the global community in recognition of the need to safeguard the oceans. As the Marine Stewardship Council tells us, one in 10 people are either directly or indirectly reliant on seafood for their livelihood.

Should they do more?

AN: Where we really need to see accelerated action is from governments and decision makers, acting to ensure that the appropriate management and regulations are in place, and from industry players looking down their supply chain and saying: How can we make sure that the fish we buy is sustainable?

What are the risks in pushing the fishing industry to achieve the SDG 14 by 2030?

AN: The critical question here is : What is the risk of doing nothing? What would be the impact on the health of the planet and the health and the economy of the fishing community if we don’t achieve this goal? The global community, including industry, benefit from achievement of sustainability.

Where do you think the MSC fits in to all of this?

AN: The MSC has an important role to play in helping recognize fisheries that are being managed for sustainability, and they also have an important role to play in helping to redefine what constitutes sustainability.

It’s challenging work because the more that we learn about the oceans, the more information the MSC has to take into account and the more work must be done to incorporate that new information into assessment and certification.

What do you think the future of the MSC should look like?

AN: The most important thing for the MSC in the near future is to embrace the need to evolve with increasing information and understanding of what sustainability really means. The MSC can really play a role in helping managers and decision makers know how important it is to move ahead with things like harvest strategies and other measures to ensure sustainability.

The MSC must regularly self-reflect and ask: What can we best offer moving forward in terms of continuing to drive improvements in fisheries management globally?

How confident are you that we will achieve the end goal of sustainable oceans?

AN: I am hopeful! Achieving this goal is the responsibility of all involved in the fisheries sector, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders toward sustainability.

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The MSC's upcoming Seafood Futures Forum will be held during the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels on Wednesday April 25. To join the discussion via weblink or in person, register here.