Restoring Our Oceans and Seafoodby Mike Sutton, Founder, Marine Stewardship Councilabril 7th, 2015

Michael Sutton

Michael Sutton (pictured) founded the Marine Stewardship Council in 1997 and more recently helped establish the United States’ largest network of marine reserves off the California coast.

It seems as though every week brings another headline somewhere in the world about the decline of our marine environment and resources.  Recently it was two new reports that highlight continued overfishing of the Atlantic by fleets from the European Union.  That’s bad news for the millions of people around the world who rely on the ocean as their primary source of protein.

Clearly, governments acting alone and together through international treaty organizations haven’t been entirely successful in controlling our exploitation of the oceans.  But where the arm of the law is short, the market reaches everywhere.  In addition to initiatives aimed at better regulating fishing fleets and curbing “pirate” fishing, efforts are well underway to bring market forces and the power of commerce itself to bear on the problem.  TheMarine Stewardship Council (MSC), a London-based organization, independently certifies sustainable fisheries and has developed the world’s first seafood ecolabel.  The MSC process includes an ironclad “chain of custody” endorsement to ensure that certified seafood is accurately traced from ocean to plate.  Today, billions of dollars in seafood products bear the distinctive MSC label, which assures consumers and businesses alike that their seafood is from sustainable sources.  The MSC also has stimulated dozens of fishery improvement projects around the world as fishermen vie for the right to carry the ecolabel and exploit new, green markets.  These projects, often funded by the seafood industry, involve progressive fishermen working with nonprofit organizations to improve fishing practices so as to qualify for MSC certification.

Seafood lovers today expect the highest levels of environmental performance from their retailers, including restaurants, fishmongers, and supermarkets.  Today’s consumers and businesses are informed by programs such as Seafood Watch, which provide easy-to-follow advice on seafood purchases.  The entire supply chain has become involved, and fishermen are working to improve the sustainability of their industry.  These powerful market incentives hold great promise to help reverse our history of overfishing, restore the abundance of our oceans, and improve the health of coastal communities and the global seafood industry alike.

It’s particularly important that we engage fisheries that supply world’s favorite seafood choices—including shrimp, tuna, and salmon—in these sustainability initiatives.  Each of these is a diverse, global industry worth billions, often supplied by fisheries operating in remote parts of our oceans.  The MSC oversees a rigorous assessment process and it’s not easy to qualify for certification and the right to use the ecolabel.  There’s an element of public scrutiny in the certification process that can be uncomfortable to fishermen.  But the potential rewards are great:  Not only commanding a potential price premium but expanding to new markets, reassuring increasingly savvy consumers, and staying one step ahead of regulators.

We should all support the fisheries undergoing assessment for possible MSC certification.  These represent the world’s fishing industry leaders who are concerned about both the future of their businesses and the health of our oceans.  Each of us has a stake in their pioneering efforts to help assure the future of our seafood and of our ocean environment.