What can the Marine Stewardship Council offer the West Australian fishing industry?
The Department of Fisheries (DoF) certification programme is now well into its initial four year cycle looking to benchmark WA fisheries against an environmental standard. Industry thoughts may now be turning to see what the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) can offer a fishery if the decision is made to engage with this globally recognised sustainability programme.
I have recently joined the MSC Australia team after spending two and a half years with the MSC UK team working on a similar project with the UK inshore fishing industry. So what was the thinking behind this move to Australia? To help show the Western Australian fishing industry the value of engaging with a third party certification scheme. That and of course the personal opportunity for me to live by the coast, away from the hustle and bustle of London and get a bit of sunshine in my life! Anyway, I digress…
The DoF are pledging to support any fishery looking for full MSC certification both financially and in terms of research resources needed to help meet the high benchmark set by the MSC. It therefore may seem like a no brainer for fisheries to get involved. However, engagement with the MSC and undertaking a full assessment are decisions that should be thought through carefully as it is not a one size fits all approach. With the MSC programme being a completely voluntary process, there is no expectation for fisheries to engage in the full assessment process. If for whatever reason, certification does not suit the needs of your fishery, there is no expectation to engage any further. But for those that do, there are recognised benefits which have been demonstrated when other fisheries have achieved certification. And that is currently around 10% of the global wild capture landings! I’ll use this blog to summarise a few of the benefits of third party certification.
One of the strongest reasons for fisheries engaging with the MSC is for market based reasons. And both the MSC’s vision and mission recognise markets in incentivising change towards more sustainable fisheries.
Fisheries that meet the MSC criteria and achieve certification have been known to secure market access, maintaining a ‘buyers’ preference in providing differentiation in competitive global markets. MSC has also helped when fisheries look to access new markets. You just have to look at the Gulf of Spencer King Prawn fishery which achieved MSC certification in 2011 and has since welcomed access into new European and Asian markets.
The MSC is not just about the sustainability of global fisheries but also looks at the traceability through the subsequent supply chain. This ‘Chain of Custody’ standard looks to ensure that any MSC certified product is fully traceable from the consumer back to a sustainable source. This is likely to benefit industry in helping to maintain a credible and full traceable supply chain guaranteeing that it is your product which makes its way to the end consumer.
Credibility and Transparency
Another of the benefits of engaging with the MSC is the credibility that comes with independent certification. It is not you saying that your fishery is sustainable, nor is the Department of Fisheries. It isn’t even the MSC who undertake the assessment, it is in fact a third party certifier to the MSC assessment process who reviews the status of a fishery and gives the ultimate decision on whether the bar has been met. For this reason, the credibility of the MSC is unparalleled and one of the reasons why supply chains recognise the ecolabel as a stand-out indicator for sustainability.
When fisheries go in to full assessment with the MSC, they are effectively committing to a fully transparent process. Whilst this may initially seem like a daunting situation, bringing everything out in to the open shows that there is nothing to hide. And if the fishery is certified, all of the fisheries environmental processes, both those performing well and those that still have some improvements to be made are summarised in documents hosted on the MSC for anyone to read through.
There is a theory of change with fisheries that engage in the MSC and that is witnessing a fishery become more sustainable from initial engagement at an MSC pre-assessment level through to MSC certification. If improvements need to be made to get a fishery through the MSC process, the DoF are willing to commit the research and resources implement improvements. This will lead to long-term environmental, social and economic benefits to a fishery.
There are of course many other benefits to MSC certification which are recognised in documents such as the MSC’s Net Benefits. However, to discuss MSC in more detail and if it is something which may work for your fishery, please do get in contact.
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