Under development since 1997, the MSC has strong European support. Its first two certified products are produced in the UK and Australia: herring fished from the Thames estuary by independent gill netters, and rock lobster caught off western Australia, accounting for one-fifth of the country's commercial fish catch.
"We deliberately set out to show...that our certification methods were suitable for both small and large-scale approaches," said Scott Burns of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which was one of the main driving forces behind formation of the MSC.
The other main instigator was Anglo/Dutch multinational Unilever, a major retailer of frozen fish, which believes there is substantial latent consumer demand, particularly in Europe, for seafood which can be demonstrated to have been harvested in a sustainable way.
Designed for use on packaging and on restaurant menus, award of the MSC label requires verification by an independent, third-party auditor, as with the other global certification scheme backed by WWF, the Forest Stewardship Council. Verifiers check that catches are compatible with long-term sustainable yield, that relevant laws are complied with and that monitoring and management system are effective.
As with its forestry counterpart, the MSC is a multi-stakeholder organisation, with national committees in each member country. The main challenge in developing the standard has been that fish stocks are not "owned" as forest land is and can also be highly mobile. "In Australia, the company was able to demonstrate that stocks had been stable for the past two decades...although even there the certifiers were able to suggest areas that could be explored for improvement," Mr Burns told ENDS Daily.
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