NEW YORK — The Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainability standards for fisheries are “too lenient and discretionary,” according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
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The authors of the study examined the outcome of 19 formal objections brought to MSC, raised mainly by environmental groups, about certification of certain fisheries. Such objections are heard by an MSC-appointed independent adjudicator. In all but one instance, the adjudicator ruled in favor of the fishery.
However, the study’s authors wrote that these fisheries did not actually uphold MSC’s standards of sustainability for various reasons. For example, a swordfish fishery in Canada has high levels of bycatch, ensnaring approximately 100,000 sharks, 1,200 endangered loggerhead and 170 critically endangered leatherback turtles, in addition to its quota of 20,000 swordfish.
In addition, the study noted that the Alaska pollock fishery is MSC-certified, despite multiple court rulings that it had violated national law.
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“The MSC’s narrow definition of sustainability is out of step with the general public perception of what that term means,” Claire Christian, one of the study’s co-authors and a policy analyst at the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, said in a statement. “When the MSC labels a swordfish fishery that catches more sharks than swordfish ‘sustainable,’ it’s time to re-evaluate its standards.”
The authors said MSC needs to do a better job of enforcing its standards, or consumers will be misled into purchasing seafood that is not as “sustainable” as it claims to be.
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