Fishy labels for seafood

Living on earth covers this important topic in marine conservation. Excerpts from the online transcript are below. Listen to the program here.  Also see more of our coverage of this topic here and read about a recent publication that found evidence of mislabeled fish with the MSC label here

Today we launch a new series: Go Fish: Striving for Sustainability, and we join Living on Earth’s Jessica Ilyse Kurn as she investigates the pledges that stores have made.

KURN: Walk down the aisles of virtually any grocery store today and you’ll notice the many symbols on each package. There’s USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Certified Humane. So-called ‘eco-labels’ are everywhere – even on fresh fish.

Eat less seafood, eat lower on the marine food web – Dr. Jennifer Jacquet

GOVANNI: Anytime you see this seal or you see this one that says “Certified Sustainable,” you’ll know that the fishing was done responsibly.

KURN: That’s Barbara Govanni. She works behind the seafood counter at the Shaw’s grocery store in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Shaw’s is one of the largest grocery chains in New England and along with other big name stores like Walmart, Target and Big Y, Shaw’s has pledged to carry seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Govanni points to the fish glistening on ice behind the glass case. There’s Alaskan halibut, and Wild Sockeye Salmon, both flagged with a Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, sign. The MSC’s Kerry Coughlin says the label means that each fish can be traced back to a certified sustainable fishery.

COUGHLIN: We are the world’s leading global standard for sustainability in seafood.

KURN: The symbol is blue, with a white outline of a fish that looks like a check mark – a sign of green approval. There are several eco-labels for seafood, the most common you’ll see are ‘dolphin-safe’ labels. Coughlin says the MSC label means that the fish were caught in a way that’s not damaging the marine ecosystem.

COUGHLIN: It’s also harvested in a way that is not depleting the fish stock, where the fish stock is maintaining or even regenerating to ensure that there’s plenty of fish for this and future generations.

KURN: The Marine Stewardship Council’s label is supposed to make it easier for the consumer to know which fish to buy. With labeled fish, eco-conscious shoppers won’t have carry around a wallet full of seafood guides, or do the research themselves. But some scientists say this simplification deceives the consumer. Jennifer Jacquet is a research scientist at the University of British Columbia. She finds the MSC’s method suspect.

JACQUET: They seem to be more, if anything, a fisheries improvement project, where they try to co-opt fisheries into this program and then they say that their goal is to raise standards over time. But that’s not how they marketed themselves to the consumer. To the consumer they’ve sold this idea that this is the best environmental choice – you are eating something that is guilt free.

KURN: She says it would be better to give consumers a different message.

JACQUET: Eat less seafood, eat lower on the marine food web. And those are fish like sardines, herring, mackerel. The things lower on the food web, more resilient to over-fishing, faster turn around, shorter life span.

One Response to “Fishy labels for seafood”

  1. Jennifer ist right, of course – but not fully.

    1) Eating less seafood: but how less? We at checked it out, roughly, I agree, in order to give consumers a clear and measurable answer: not more than 20 times fish a year! And if you live in a country where you are not obliged to eat fish in order to get enough proteins, please do not eat more fish than once a month and let the rest to people who have to rely on marine resources.
    Why 20x a year? Mankind is eating 40 fish dishes yearly per capita. Concerned marine scientists want to reduce captures by more than half for at least 4 years to allow stocks of some important stocks to rebuild (for other important ones, it will take 10 years or more). In addition, the demand that no more fish shall be caught to feed farmed fish, poultry or pigs. Thus, we should at least cut in half global seafood consumption for the next years.

    2) Eating down the food web can help to immediately reduce the pressure made on stocks on top of the web – but on the long run we are just eating away the prey of the top ones, and it’s rather the top ones we as human beings are supposed to eat, if ever.

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