By Kelly Reid, Marketing Intern
Anyone who has seen Rob Stewart’s fantastic – albeit shocking – documentary Sharkwater knows the devastation that long-lining fisheries can wreak on endangered populations. And it isn’t just sharks at risk; for instance, a Florida swordfish long-liner captures dead or dying billfish, Bluefin tuna, and endangered leatherback turtles in addition to sharks – and they’re all dumped overboard . Certainly, it seems clear that long-lining is simply not sustainable and a real threat to fragile marine ecosystems. But what happens when lobbyists butt heads with conservationists, and these practices get a legislative green light?
The Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, is a self-appointed watchdog organization that claims to promote sustainable seafood fishing practices while at the same time aiming to “transform the world’s seafood markets.” Recently, the MSC granted this same Florida swordfish fishery a “sustainable” designation, essentially turning a blind eye to the horrific truth about long-lining.
Certainly, the MSC has had many critics in the past. Scientists and conservationists, of course, condemn the group for its preference for bureaucracy over scientific fact, and its pandering to the heavy-hitters of commercial seafood production. But the trouble doesn’t end there. So-called “sustainability” is no longer even a trusted word, which discredits much of the MSC’s work. For instance, a recent article in Current Biology revealed that “1 of every 5 fillets of Chilean sea bass certified as ‘sustainably caught’ was neither Chilean sea bass, nor from an area deemed to have a sustainable fishery.”
One sea turtle conservation group argued that the MSC makes designations of sustainability based on very limited and selective observation, and chooses to ignore the collective effects on entire seaboards. The group’s major concern is that a large Canadian long-lining fishery could be next in line for the MSC’s label of sustainability – even though this fishery inadvertently captures over 1200 turtles per year.
Unfortunately, many consumers read a label of “sustainable” and don’t think to question its legitimacy, or the bureaucratic process that stands behind it. MSC discloses on its website that 47% of its $19 million dollar income comes from “trusts and individuals,” and also that a portion of its funding comes from major UK grocers such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer as well as commercial banking giant Coutts – companies that clearly have a vested interest in the business mobility of their suppliers and investors. Hmmmm. Now that seems a little fishy.