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Point of View: Divided we fall?

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Melanie Siggs
January 01, 2010

As we greet a new year, it is an appropriate time to look ahead and also reflect on how far we've come in this new millennium. A decade ago, the conversation around sustainability was just on the edge of gaining real traction, awareness of the "fish to fork" connection was emerging and tangible ways to make a difference were evolving - one of the most notable initiatives being the formation of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Despite the MSC's increasing international outreach or the 50-plus fisheries that have demonstrated responsible practice through participation, the MSC staff might be finding it hard to clink champagne glasses with conviction as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

A media search finds significant coverage of the MSC, including the challenges it currently faces, ranging from the participation of certain fisheries deemed by some to be inappropriate, to the ongoing question for recertification over the Alaska salmon fishery. The MSC could at least find comfort in the interest levels, but overall the fire engines at its offices must be on standby in the climate of public blame and calls for retribution.

There's no smoke without fire and no doubt the MSC process is not without fault. But this is not an exact world. Challenge is good, and there are many who are deeply uncomfortable with the ethical appropriateness of even considering certifying forage fisheries, or going anywhere near Antarctic krill or Ross Sea toothfish. Equally, those who understand the importance and opportunity of brand partnerships are strongly hoping that some agreement can be made on the Alaska fishery.

After 10 years of investment, development of brand and reputation, and transparent, rigorous processes, working to Food and Agriculture Organization guidelines and the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL) codes, now may be the time to stop and question the dangers - to the sector and throughout the value chain - of the threats to the MSC's position as a service to industry. The MSC process may be far from perfect, but it may be important to ensure we don't publicly damage 
the MSC so irreversibly as to taint its attractiveness as a service partner.

The MSC can continue to play an important role in the ongoing quest to encourage and demonstrate responsible fisheries management, to deliver appropriate fish to the marketplace, to ultimately help protect the ocean and to help consumers make good choices. Collaboratively and positively working through the challenges of the MSC, exploring what a more precautionary position might look like or reconsidering other controversial areas feels important to do. But this must be done in a positive way, through the collective effort of working as partners, not as adversaries.

Ultimately, the whole business of assurance needs to be addressed if it is to develop into a 21st century-appropriate tool capable of meeting the world's changing needs. The forthcoming Seafood Summit in Paris, organized by SeaWeb's Seafood Choices at the end of this month, includes a strand of dialogue on the "Business of Assurance" to help challenge our assumptions of the current systems.


Melanie Siggs is VP of sustain-
able markets for SeaWeb. Sea-food Choices is an international
program of SeaWeb (www.seaweb.org) that provides lead-ership and creates opportunities for change across the industry and conservation community.


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