Misleading/Mislabeled: MSC 2

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NPR photo of Whole Foods MSC label on Swordfish

As a follow up to my last blog post, I am including the second of a three part series about the “sustainability” of the MSC labeling. MSC labeling is again called to task. Hopefully a great idea will maintain/gain some great standards and guidelines for buying fish. What we wish it to be, though, isn’t yet. Certainly listen to the three programs devoted to this topic or read this entire article (and the MSC’s response to the accusations) but here is an excerpt from the next NPR segment:

 

But many environmentalists who have studied the MSC system say that label is misleading. “We’re not getting what we think we’re getting,” says Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada’s Ecology Action Centre. She says the consumer, when purchasing seafood with the blue MSC label, is “not buying something that’s sustainable now.”

If the label were accurate, Fuller says, it would include what she says is troubling fine print: The MSC system has certified most fisheries with “conditions.” Those conditions spell out that the fishermen will have to change the way they operate or study how their methods are affecting the environment — or both. But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable.

Gerry Leape, an oceans specialist who sits on the MSC’s advisory Stakeholder Council on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts, says the MSC’s policy is baffling. “It’s misleading,” he says, “to put a label of sustainability on a product where you still don’t have the basic requirements.”

MSC Labeled Swordfish Please, Hold the Shark

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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.

 

Cod Conundrum

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Massachusetts is a place where we value our ocean frontage, its beauty, magic, and its ability to give us recreation and sustenance.  At W2O we are watching carefully as the protection of fish stocks collides with the protection/support of our local fisherman and fish related industries.

Off the coast of New England, our stock of Cod, the fish that Massachusetts calls its own, is “on the verge of extinction” according to scientist.  Making real change so that the fish population can recover while supporting the efforts of our local fisherman and fisheries is a topic that our state has struggled with since the beginning of the decline of the once abundant Cod population from decades of over fishing. If confirmed, the new rulings on allowable catch this year will have a huge economic impact on the fishing community. If nothing is done, Atlantic Cod will be the fish that we will regret not saving from extinction.

From the New England Aquarium: “On January 30, the New England Fisheries Management Council met to decide on allowable biological catch (ABC) limits for cod in fishing year (FY) 2013 (which begins on May 1, 2013). This decision had been delayed since last year by the Council’s request for a new Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment to ensure the findings from the 2011 assessment were accurate. The results of the most recent Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod assessments show that both stocks have been overfished, with overfishing occurring every year since the beginning of the time series (1982). These results are in accordance with previous results, both the original Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment and the new one came to the same results.”

Here are some links about this topic (in the news today and some archival information) that might help you understand this huge issue.
http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/cod/species_pages/atlantic_cod.htm
 
http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2012/12/20/with-drastic-fishing-cuts-expected-thursday-blame-for-disappearing-cod-shifts-ocean/OydWAwHlQcZwWxL6eIXzSI/story.html
 
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/03/04/in_canada_cod_remain_scarce_despite_ban/
 
http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/hope-remains-for-new-england-fisheries_2013-02-03.html
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/opinion/keep-the-fishing-ban-in-new-england.html?_r=0
 
http://www.savingseafood.org/fishing-industry-alerts/statement-of-the-northeast-seafood-coalition-on-gulf-of-maine-cod-catch-limit-announc-2.html
 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jun/03/fish-stocks-information-beautiful
 

January Board Member Profile: Meg Kelly “Live to Wimp Again”

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Meg Kelly and Dovey

When adventure calls for quick action and you must decide whether or not to take that tempting risk or to walk away, Meg Kelly tells her three daughters “Live to wimp again” a motto that she has carried with her for almost thirty years from her days as a National Outdoor Leadership (NOLS) participant.

W2O Board member Margaret Carter Holliday Kelly (I give you the long version of her name because it seems as impressive as her resume) graduated from Williams College with a degree in Economics but it is telling that she was a teaching assistant in Environmental Studies, a foreshadowing of things to come. After college and a few years in banking, she took a hiatus to do the NOLS program and lamented to one of her instructors that she wasn’t fulfilled and was searching for her vocation. That instructor, Steph Kessler, wife of current NOLS director John Gans (and that same instructor that gave her the “live to wimp again” motto) recommended that “she do something that she loves.”  The door opened to conservation starting with a Masters of Environmental Studies from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and followed with a life long passion for stewardship of the natural world.

Meg is vital to the board of W2O. She brings expertise from her positions of President of the Weston Forest and Trail Association (merged recently with the formally named Weston Land Trust) and her work with the New England Aquarium as an Overseer.
Meg celebrates a big birthday this week and I asked her what that meant to her as it applies to her work in conservation.  “I feel like there is some unfinished business-that I have work to do, work that will make a difference. I want to leave the world in a better place than it was in when I was born.”

What We Should Be Doing Anyway

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Derek Speirs for the NYTimes

My favorite New Years quote (NYTimes 12/28) comes from Dr. Frank Convery, an economist at the University of Dublin, and refers to the strides made by Ireland to reduce their overwhelming fiscal deficit while creating low carbon emissions with the introduction of a carbon footprint tax.  By introducing the tax and changing behavior, Ireland has reduced its emission by 15% since 2008.  Dr Convery: “You don’t want to waste a good crisis to do what we should be doing anyway.”

I Can’t Hear You: Ocean Noise Pollution and our Mammals

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NY Times/David McNew/Getty Images

Some of us know the terrible feeling of calling for a child in a crowded mall or on a busy street and realizing that your cries or the cries of your child might be drowned out by the noise around us.  Now the ocean most precious mammals are sharing our dismay and being drowned out by noise pollution in our oceans, making it difficult for them to find their offspring, mate and prey.  And we are to blame.

A recent New York Times article describes the underwater noise as deafening with blasting and gun firing for exploration of gas and oil and roaring noise coming from commercial and cargo ships traversing the seas at an ever more frequent rate. An amazingly distressing photo mapping image from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows just how much of the area around your coastal waters is an underwater cacophony. NOAA ‘s mapping results highlight the urgency of protecting our ocean inhabitants-from ourselves.

 

Shale Gas Fracking-Friend or Foe?

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Fracking Diagram from Legal Press

Whilst the Doha Conference on Climate Change focuses on policy-driven initiatives to limit CO2 emissions, an article in this month’s National Geographic demonstrates the importance (and questions) of commercially-driven action.

Fracking, the process of accessing natural gas deposits in shale, has reduced US reliance on dirty fossil fuels, such as coal and oil and helped reduce CO2 emissions by more than 7% since 2005 ( US Environmental Protection Agency).

The picture sounds rosy, except that as CO2 emissions have declined, methane emissions have risen and methane traps at least 25 times as much heat.   Just last week the EPA released a study of its final research of hydraulic fracking and its effect on the environment.  The Huffington Post published an article with the pros and cons that outlines the risks and the benefits. Could shale gas be worse for the environment than coal? Should we be investing in hydraulic fracking or look to renewable energy to help curb our emissions?

Still, some hope lies in the fact that the capture of methane is a great opportunity to slow global warming, since it is much easier to capture than CO2.  Moreover, as a valuable fuel, it raises the possibility of its capture as a commercially-driven prospect rather than policy-driven. One thing that is very clear; there isn’t an easy answer and something needs to happen to protect our already fragile environment and the health of future generations.

Claire Calleawart is a W2O Board Member. She has her Masters in Zoology from Cambridge University. Read more about Claire in the November Board Member Profile

Doha Talks: All Talk, No Action??

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NPR’s Richard Harris’ report about the talks in Doha this month continue to highlight the need for countries to step up efforts to support treaties that will unite nations in the fight against climate change.  There are so many complicated issues; can there be a single agreement, how will wealthy nations support vulnerable ones and protect them from loss, damage, disaster or even disappearance because of rising sea levels.  2020 is too late to rein in global warming.

 

 

December Board Member Profile: Dianne Brown

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Maybe it is the bit of her mom’s British heritage that gives board member and head of our Finance Committee Dianne Brown an air of humble responsibility that she calls her “avocation to protecting the ocean.”  Land locked in Ohio growing up, you might wonder how she came to be drawn to the ocean and especially her passion, its mammals.  “Yes, I love the fish, but its the ocean’s mammals that inspire me to want to leave a legacy of healthy oceans for my children.” That inspiration came from visits to England, hiking with parents and grandparents with a keen sense of responsibility towards the natural world, and time spent on the ocean in Ct and RI, kayaking and learning more about marine ecology with her two girls.  She feels that being interested in conservation and especially the ocean is a choice that allows her to help take responsibility for what she believes in, while showing her girls how to make good choices and encouraging them to take leadership roles to educate others on the importance of  protecting our oceans and its inhabitants.

Wish List-Ocean Friendly Holiday Gifts from W2O

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Friends contemplating W2O holiday gift ideas

Happy Holidays from W2O. Here are Ocean friendly gifts inspired by suggestions from our members. We would love to hear from you about what fun unexpected things you have found that will inspire others to care for our beautiful oceans-please share! Here are some suggestions that we hope you will enjoy.

  • Membership to W2O! Give the wonderful gift of a W2O year membership to your friends and loved ones and receive a W2O car magnet. Members will receive invitations to members only events (such as a Jan. sustainable seafood event and our fabulous Valentines event) and early warnings about our popular educational events. Membership is $50 and checks can be sent to P.O. Box 503 Weston M.A. 02493
  • Share your love for all things Aquatic. The New England Aquarium has ideas for even your most difficult to buy for-including sponsoring a Right Whale and a kiss from a seal! 
  • In keeping with our mission to ban single use plastic bags, we are delighted to give you lots of fun alternatives! So cool shopping bags that come in all sizes and colors. Here are just a few of our faves: From Madewell, a beautiful colorful tote bag, Simple Peace offers urban totes and stylish farmers market bags made out of hemp and canvas. There are an endless amount of colors to choose from at Baggu, and the iconic Anya Hindmarch “I am not a Plastic Bag” now only found on ebay.
  • Picture above : A glass reusable bottle from Life Factory, a stainless steel straw from WestElm and the UfO Siliko Lid-a handy silicon mat that helps you nixsay the plastic wrap. It seals, goes in the micowave, fridge and most importantly the dishwasher!

Our members are buying their friends gifts that reduce plastic use, like the Soda Stream, and on the heels of our reduce car emissions Roadside Assistance event, a membership to ZipCar!  We would love to hear what inspires you this year to give sustainable healthy gifts to your family and friends.

Happy Holidays from all of us at W2O!