The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced in early December that it would suspend its certification of Atlanto-Scandic herring and blue whiting fisheries as of Dec. 30, affecting eight certificates across European fisheries. This follows the suspension of the MSC certificate on mackerel fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic in 2019.
This had been expected for quite some time and the action taken by all involved stakeholders, starting with the MSC certificate holders (i.e. the fishing industry), including other industry representatives, during the last years, was sadly not enough.
What does it mean, really?
Let us be clear: the MSC suspension does not reflect an issue related to illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing at an individual fishery level. No one has overfished their allocated quota.
However, as the three stocks are shared by a number of individual countries, inter-governmental measures are indispensable. In this case, just as in the case of mackerel, the lack of agreement on the allocation of quota between the coastal states has resulted in autonomous quotas to be set. Indeed, intergovernmental negotiations had failed to ensure that quotas did not exceed the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) at a global level.
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With the landings of blue whiting predominantly used to produce fishmeal for farmed salmon, it is vital to come up with a solution that allows for sustainable measures to be agreed on the marine ingredient component.
Some feed producers will give up using these species as long as they don’t comply with MSC labelling. This is fully consistent with their commitment to use a high percentage of certified raw materials. It also demonstrates that certification programs are essential to the future of the industry.
The decision made by the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy group (NAPA) to retain MarinTrust as the relevant program for blue whiting to enter a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) shows that the marine ingredient component is not being left aside.
This first encouraging step acknowledges that marine ingredients are critical for aquaculture growth. However, acceptance onto a MarinTrust FIP does not mean certification. It is expected that the MarinTrust Improver Programme will enable feed producers to engage with the fishing industry, which should help all parties understand what is at stake. It should be recognized that all swathes of the industry have already done everything that was in their power.
Now, it is not for the industry to take action anymore: governmental stakeholders bear a huge responsibility, and it is high time they be held accountable.
Petter M. Johannessen is director general of IFFO, The Marine Ingredients Organisation.
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