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MSC Seafood Futures Forum: How committed is Norway to sustainable fisheries?

What role does the fishing industry play in achieving ocean sustainability?


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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.

Tor Bjørklund Larsen, environmental consultant at the Norwegian Fishermen's Association (Norges Fiskarlag), gives his view on Norway's commitment to sustainability ahead of the MSC's Seafood Futures Forum.

TBL: Norway is heavily invested in certifications – we have more than 90 percent of our fisheries and volume now MSC-certified.

Our approach in Norway, when we started certifying fisheries, there was a general philosophy that sustainability should really be pre-competitive and not a market advantage for a single company, single organization or group of fishermen. This is because no single organization or company can take credit for the sustainability of Norwegian fisheries -- it is the joint efforts over the last century more or less which have led us to the position where we are able to be MSC-certified. So it should be a national engagement on such matters.

In Norway, certification of our fisheries and all parts of the assessments are open to all fishermen and the industry participating in those fisheries.

There is certainly a market advantage to certification – but the whole fleet should work together to be a MSC-certified fishery – and not just one operator. Should be at national fleet level, all fishermen have equal credit.

Getting to 100 percent MSC certified fisheries, however, is not a stated goal because there is also a cost related issue to this. I would say it is our goal to ensure that all fisheries are sustainable and to the degree whereby they can be certified to the MSC standard but there is a lot of work and cost involved in certifying fisheries.

Is there an awareness of SDG 14 in the industry?

TBL: Yes, personally I am very well aware of the sustainable development goals. In the Norwegian industry as a whole, I would also say there is also a good awareness at organization or management level.

We have national research industry, whose research strategy is anchored in the SDG 14. Also our colleagues at the Norwegian Seafood Federation have a long terms strategy for sustainable aquaculture anchored in SDG 14, and we ourselves at the Norwegian Fisherman Association our board has a clean seas strategy anchored in this SDG 14.

I would say there is total awareness at national level.

What do you think? Are they realistic?

TBL: I think they are a very good thing – I would also say they are ambitious and there is obviously more that needs to be done, but I would say aim for the stars and we may hit the treetops.

But they are very important and we are well aligned with these strategies, they are very important for the seafood industry.

In the management, organization level there is good awareness, if you go to the dockside to the fishermen themselves and ask about SDG 14 the awareness may be considerably lower.

But when we "operationalize" these strategies – because fishermen are extremely engaged when it comes to environmental issues and the sea because it is their livelihood – we see in our organization there is huge engagement at grass roots level when it comes to issues such as pollution and plastics and ghost fishing, for example.

Fishermen are concerned with anything that impacts the sustainability of the oceans – we are quite aware of our ability to over-fish for example, so that is something we have to be very responsible about.

What does the fishing industry need from NGOs, retailers and other stakeholders to achieve these goals by 2030?

TBL: Let's start with NGOs – I think it is a fairly healthy relationship. I think that we talk on most issues concerning ocean sustainability – we have the same goals. And we have the same goals for other issues, so we co-operate very well on key issues and we’re partners. When it comes sustainability issues, particularly issues on how fishermen affect the seas, I think there is a good relationship over the challenges.

From the retailers, I think that for them to be predictable and dependable when it comes to their sourcing policies – especially when talking about certification -- I think that is the most important point. They have to be very aware that certification is something that they have access to but we are paying for. These certifications are huge investments in time and money and with very long investment horizons and we depend that they truly stand behind their sourcing policies in the long run as well.

I have to add, though, that the most important thing is of course the government.

Are we moving too fast or too slow to achieve this as an industry?

TBL: It’s difficult, if we can truly achieve those goals by 2030, we will have resolved all the problems, so it seems unlikely that’s when we’ll succeed. But again shoot for the stars and hit the treetops – that’s pretty good.

When it comes to these huge issues like global warming, acidification of the ocean and plastics pollution, it’s obvious that up until now we have been moving too slow. They are now issues that we have to work very hard to try to contain rather than truly resolve. But I certainly wouldn’t say we are moving too fast and I truly hope we succeed by 2030, but it’s not that far away, is it?

Where does the MSC fit in to all of this?

TBL: The most important player when it comes to global fisheries management is the actual fisheries managers – the governments.

But I think the MSC has played a huge role over the last 15 years or so. Not just in terms of the direct benefits of the fisheries that are certified, and the management changes that have been made in these fisheries prior to certification, but I think also the MSC has been a huge catalyst for the actual conversation in the industry.

Just look how much that organization has done for the fisheries press over the last 10 plus years, and how every company and organization has made sustainability an integrated part of their business. For some companies perhaps it is window painting but for a lot of them it is real stuff.

And most of all it has facilitated a lot of the discussion between governments and industries. Some of the previous dynamics saw governments try to place restrictions on fisheries, and the industry counter it. But that dynamic has changed slightly and even in some places you now have the industry criticizing government because it is not moving fast enough to manage the fisheries.

It is that awareness and the dynamic of discussions in the worldwide industry that impact the MSC has been huge.

What should the future of the MSC look like?

TBL: The most important part of the future of the MSC is it needs to have real belief in global change and an understanding its approach to global ocean sustainability is truly different from the approach of many other NGOs.

There have been many fisheries where there have been many, and better, incremental changes made as a result of MSC certification. But is very important that of what is left – the 60-80 percent of global fisheries that are not MSC certified and not operating at the level to be MSC certified – the organization facilitates them to get certified, let the forces work and bring them on board and rise to the level of MSC certification.

That’s where they have a truly global impact.

What’s important now is the MSC keeps the rudder steady when it comes to the standard.

Those fisheries already certified should not rest on their laurels but it is also very important those fisheries aspiring to be certified, that they are not shooting a moving target.

I believe in its theory of change, and it is a different and a very slow moving philosophy, it has only been a decade and will need several decades yet to really see the global impacts of it – but I think it is working and will continue to if we keep a steady hand at the rudder.

What are the risks for the industry if nothing is done?

TBL: SDGs very well aligned with what we need to do to survive in the future and be a part of the solution to feed the population and secure our own livelihoods.

The risks are everything – one thing is the issue of over fishing, but then there is global warming, and ocean acidification in terms of ecosystems is huge, basically everything to lose.

Global plastic pollution – we’ve only had plastic for the last 100 years or so in mass production, even less, so it’s a huge, large scale, laboratory experiment where we will struggle.

Maybe the consequences aren’t so bad, but we won’t know that, whatever the consequences are we’ll probably be struggling with them for the next centuries. So all of our chips are on the table and it’s quite crucial for us.

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Tor Bjørklund Larsen will be taking part in a panel discussion at the MSC's upcoming Seafood Futures Forum to be held during the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels on Wednesday April 25. To join the discussion via weblink or in person, register here.

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