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Q&A: MSC on Its Plan to Put Fishing on a 'Pathway to Sustainability'

Fishing boats at sunset in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia | Image credit: Jorge Láscar/Flickr

With the Our Ocean conference taking place in Bali, Indonesia, this week, ocean sustainability has been a hot topic: The event burst with sweeping commitments from the public and private sector alike aimed at cleaning up and protecting this precious resource. One such commitment came from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which launched a £1 million Ocean Stewardship Fund. The fund is aimed at driving scientific research and accelerating progress towards sustainability in fisheries, particularly those in the Global South. It will support work that contributes to SDG 14 — to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development — which aims to end overfishing by 2030.

In addition, to support MSC’s commitment to engage 20 percent of global fisheries in the MSC program by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030, the MSC also launched the Pathway to Sustainability initiative, which will support fisheries that have difficulty accessing the MSC program through the coordination of joint-funded, multi-fishery mapping and assessment projects, and a combination of tools and guidance developed by the MSC over the last 20 years.

Sustainable Brands caught up with Nicolas Guichoux, Global Commercial Director at MSC, to learn more about these new initiatives.

We know we are overfishing our oceans. What are some of the latest statistics?

Nicholas Guichoux: The situation does not look great. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of fish stocks are overfished. While progress is being made in the Global North towards sustainability, the situation is worsening in the Global South, where 73 percent of seafood globally is now caught. It’s also concerning that illicit fishing may account for up to 26 million tonnes of fish a year, or more than 15 percent of the world’s total annual capture fisheries output.

What are the implications of the state of the global fishing industry?

NG: It’s clear that progress towards sustainable fishing is being made in developed nations. In these regions, there is often widespread support from governments, good fisheries management and the data needed to demonstrate that stocks are healthy is already being gathered. In the Global South, however, a lack of data, structure and formal management of fishing fleets represents a barrier to becoming sustainable. With the majority of seafood coming from these countries in the Global South, the industry can never be considered sustainable until we address overfishing there.

Fishing happens everywhere. What part of the world are you most concerned with and why?

NG: The Global South, including countries like Indonesia where the Our Ocean conference is taking place, are at more of a risk from overfishing and associated issues because populations in those countries depend on fishing for food and their livelihoods. Indonesia is a good example of a developing nation that is trying really hard to better manage fisheries, but it's a huge task — there are thousands of islands and most of them have fishing communities, so to start changing how they do things is a huge undertaking. We recognise efforts by the government of Indonesia to tackle it. We’re also trying to do our bit, too, with Fish for Good, a project to map and assess fisheries in a number of countries, including Indonesia, that will hopefully get them on the pathway to sustainability.

What is MSC doing to address this?

NG: In the past, the MSC has been focused on developing the MSC Fisheries Standard, which is the benchmark that fisheries get their sustainability assessed against, and getting fisheries to enter the program. We now have an additional new strategy that is to be more proactive with fisheries that are not yet ready for MSC certification. Our aim is to use the MSC Fisheries Standard to help them understand where the weaknesses are, and to work with them and other NGOs and experts on the ground to create action plans to address issues of bycatch, lack of research data, overfishing, etc. Our recently launched £1 million Ocean Stewardship Fund is part of our effort to engage with and help these fisheries, too.

Another initiative launched last year, the 2020 Leaders for a Living Ocean, gathered 27 companies and organisations from across the seafood supply chain who shared a raft of commitments in support of the Our Ocean Conference. This important alliance built on the groundswell of more than 300 fishing operations and 3,000 supply chain businesses, including 80 major retailers, committed to producing and selling seafood certified to MSC standards. This year, we saw five more organisations make commitments to sourcing or producing sustainable seafood.

What are some of the outcomes you were hoping to see come out of the conference in Bali this year?

NG: The Our Ocean conference is all about raising awareness in Asia and worldwide of the big challenges our oceans are facing and producing concrete action, where representatives of countries that have seen improvement can share their knowledge with countries in the Global South, so we can help them improve their fisheries.

What is your call to action for companies that touch the seafood industry?

NG: Sustainability must become as important as price and quality when it comes to sourcing seafood. We’ve seen from our GlobeScan research that consumers want independently verified, sustainable seafood and they have a greater awareness of the impact of the industry on the environment. What we need to see from companies is that it's not just about quality or price — sustainability matters, too; and it's their responsibility to make sure that the products they sell do not negatively impact the environment or worsen the overfishing crisis worldwide. Many are already doing this, but even more need to make decisions about their sourcing according to environmental credentials, and they need to get involved in tackling these issues for the species they buy.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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