Image from sustainablesushi.net
I caught the ending of an interesting program today on NPR that explained and questioned the labeling of fish by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). I see the labels in Whole Foods and other retail outlets and have always just taken for granted that the label was a signal to me that what I was purchasing was “sustainable.” I am like you-I want to do the right thing and buy fish that are not endangered or in decline. I also want to support fisheries that care about sustaining species of fish for their own livelihood and our culinary enjoyment. The labeling of fish by the MSC seems like a great idea but doesn’t always fulfill the promise of sustainability.
Unilever, one of the largest producers of frozen fish, and The World Wildlife Fund devised the MSC labeling at the height of the Atlantic Cod decline in the 90s. “The MSC does not certify fisheries itself. Instead, a fishery that wants the label hires one of roughly a dozen commercial auditing companies to decide whether its practices comply with the MSC’s definition of “sustainable.” Sounds like a wonderful idea….
The comment that struck me as I listened today made my heart sink; ( I won’t get the quote just right and can’t find it anywhere in the article) “When you buy swordfish for dinner are you ok with the fact that three sharks were caught along with it?” The sharks caught are usually release but the stress causes many of them to die anyway. My taste for my favorite fish suddenly makes me not hungry. “This touches on one of MSC’s three fundamental rules, even though studies show swordfish are plentiful. The second rule says that a fishery is not sustainable if it does not maintain “the integrity of ecosystems” — which means, in part, that it’s not sustainable if there is too much by-catch,” says Steve Campana, who runs the Canadian government’s Shark Research Laboratory, near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
MSC has engaged the interest of the public by contracting with big companies such as Walmart and Target, which are drivers of change for sure-so maybe this is a good thing for some that are just starting their journey about caring for our fish and oceans. If labeling is done well, we should rejoice that this system has become popular. But this consumer is now concerned that she doesn’t know enough to trust what she reads and will be questioning labels and doing some more research on this important topic.