Eco-labelling is powerful tool for conservation. As consumers become more aware of the ecological consequences of food production, demand grows for food products that have been produced in an environmentally responsible manner. When it comes to seafood, including salmon, more and more consumers are looking to guidelines such as Seachoice and Oceanwise to help them make well-informed choices when they buy seafood. Another growing trend is the use of eco-labels, the most well-recognized one being the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) “certified sustainable” designation. Such guidelines and eco-labels are powerful because they can provide a strong incentive for fishermen and fishery managers to ensure that their fisheries are managed well enough to qualify for favourable sustainability ratings and the increased sales that those favourable ratings bring.
Unfortunately, eco-labelling schemes often set the bar too low, allowing irresponsible fisheries to be certified as “sustainable,” a practice that not only misleads consumers, but also erases any incentive for improvement of the fishery. Watershed Watch has been an active participant in the Marine Stewardship Council assessments of BC’s salmon fisheries, and an outspoken critic of the MSC certification process. When the MSC certified the troubled Fraser River sockeye fishery in 2010, we joined other conservation groups to launch an official objection. More recently, we raised questions about the legitimacy of the MSC’s blanket certification of all Alaskan salmon fisheries, many of which intercept large numbers of fish from depleted populations that migrate through Alaskan coastal waters on their way back to their home rivers in BC.
Despite the many concerns that have been raised about the MSC, it should be recognized that the MSC certifications of BC’s sockeye and pink salmon fisheries have brought dozens of conditions for improving the management of those fisheries; conditions which government and industry have agreed to implement within 5 years. This is progress. Unfortunately, less onerous certification schemes that amount to little more than a “rubber stamp” are trying to gain a foothold in the Canadian fishing industry. We are doing all we can to ensure that only the most sustainable salmon fisheries receive eco-certification, and that government and industry honour their commitments to improve the management of those fisheries that have already received conditional eco-certification.