By Dr. A. J. Godknecht
In 1996 the WWF and Unilever initiated a joint project whose purpose was to maintain
the productivity of the oceans and which resulted in the foundation of the Marine
Stewardship Council (MSC) in February 1997.
The Marine Stewardship Council (freely
translated: Council of Ocean Managers) is an independent international organization
founded to preserve ocean resources and support their sustainable management (see
box: MSC Mission Statement). The MSC should not, however, be mistaken
for a nature
conservation organization in the true sense of the word because its interests are
primarily economic, even though they also have a strong conservation aspect.
MSC's establishment was based on the following considerations:
Although ocean fish reserves are renewable resources, they are neither infinite nor
indestructible and must thus be managed accordingly in a careful and sustainable
The expression "fish" is in this connection not used exclusively for
classical bony fish such as salmon, herring, tuna or mackerels, but rather refers
to all commercially used ocean animals. Found under the generic term "fish" are a
wide variety of animal classes such as sharks, lobsters, rock lobsters and shrimps or
oysters, to name only a few.
In order to ensure sustainable management of marine resources, it is indispensable
that all links in the fish processing chain are involved in maintaining global fish
populations. The involved parties include the commercial fishing industry, fish
processors and end users such as restaurants or fish retail stores and governments.
In 1982 all coastal States participated in the United Nations Convention on the Law
of the Sea. Since approximately 95 percent of worldwide fishing is pursued in the
national 200-mile zones of these states, they have assumed not only the rights to,
but also the responsibility for the fish resources found in their national waters.
The MSC offers all parties the opportunity to voluntarily adopt the established
fishing standards (see box) which were discussed in international workshops and
adopted in 1997 by representatives of the different interest groups. These standards
are not intended to remain static, but should be continuously adapted to evolving
Official acceptance of MSC Standards can take place in two ways.
There are no costs attached to becoming a signatory of MSC Standards, but it means
accepting and publicly professing oneself to meet these standards. The list of
"Signatories" can be viewed at any time on the MSC's Internet pages (www.msc.org).
One signatory is the Migros Cooperative Association, the largest Swiss retail trade
chain. Based on its ethical guidelines, consumer pressure, and also as a result of
accepting MSC Standards, Migros removed all shark products from its product range on
February 1, 2000.
In addition to fish processing companies and international
organizations, other examples from among the current approximately 125 "signatories"
include the Federal Association of the German fishing industry, the trade union of
Food-Pleasure-Restaurants (Germany), the Consumer Association (Germany) and North Sea
According to James Bell of MSC, the MSC certification program is designed primarily
for the fish processing industries. These can be certified by an MSC-accredited
certifiers (similar to the CE, ISO 9001 or the Green Dot). Certification fees are USD
750 (approx. CHF 1,270 or EURO 810), excluding any follow-up costs. Depending on the
size of the industry seeking certification, the process may take up to a year and
includes, e.g. public hearings, visits by expert teams, analyses of management
structures and an appraisal of the investigation by an independent commission of
Annual checks will be made to determine if MSC Standards are being
maintained and every five years the entire certification process must be repeated.
The MSC is a comparatively young organization and since certification is voluntary,
only two examples of larger organizations who have received certification are
currently available: the West Australian Lobster Fishery and the "Thames" Herring
Fishery of England. A potential third example is the Salmon Fishing Industry of
Alaska. The MSC estimates that worldwide about 15 to 20 fishery industries are in the
early phase of certification, but this is only a guess since the industries approach
the certification agencies on a confidential basis and in this early phase the MSC is
not yet informed.
Since it is apparent that only a small number of fishery industries
have made an effort to receive certification, some details in the standard criteria
may be adapted from case to case, depending on the situation. The MSC is, however,
working on universally applicable standards which can be applied by the authorized
When a fishery is certified based on MSC criteria, the remaining links in
the chain, including consumers, fish processors, restaurants and retail trade, can
all profit from this certification by proving that their products stem exclusively
from certified producers.
According to the MSC, shark catches are not directly
considered in the certification process, but these are covered under Principle 2 of
the MSC Standards:
"Fishing operations should allow for the maintenance of the
structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem (including habitat
and associated dependent and ecologically related species) on which the fishery
depends." Sharks bycatches are covered under Principle 3 (B. Operational Criteria,
The MSC is young and its logo is not yet found on cans, nor does it decorate fish
store windows or restaurant menus. Although only a few fish processing companies and
industries appear on the list of signatories, and even less have applied for
certification and subjected themselves to the certification process, we are
optimistic that the course adopted by the MSC will lead to success. The MSC is not
trying to reach its objective by increasing the number of laws, regulations and
directives. It prefers to rely on market mechanisms and the power of the consumer.
Considering the success of the ISO or CE certification process, both of which are
also sought voluntarily, the road chosen by the MSC has great potential.
As soon as a
certain critical number of fishing industries are certified, the remaining links in
the chain can also seek certification and then bear the MSC logo as a seal of
quality. It is then up to the consumer to select products from companies which meet
the MSC Standards and guarantee sustainable, responsible and ecologically meaningful
Shark Info and the Shark Foundation have initiated an action calling for our readers
to congratulate the Migros Cooperative Association for its courage and to confirm the
significance of their decision to remove all shark products from its shelves, thus
setting an example for the future. You can send your comments via E-mail to the
Migros Ethics and Environmental Department from the Shark Info website:
Aktionen. The more E-mails sent the better!
The Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) aim is to work for
sustainable marine fisheries by promoting responsible, environmentally appropriate,
socially beneficial and economically viable fishery practices while maintaining the
biodiversity (large and varied number of species), productivity and ecological
processes of the marine environment through:
- conserving marine fish populations and the ocean environment on which they depend
- promoting responsible management of fisheries, ensuring the sustainability of global
fish stocks and the general health of the marine ecosystem, and
- establishing and promoting the application of a broad set of Principles and Criteria
for Sustainable Fishing.
A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to
overfishing or the depletion of exploited populations, and for those populations that
are depleted, the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to
- The fishery shall be conducted at catch levels that continually
maintain the high productivity of the target population(s) and associated ecological
community relative to its potential productivity.
- Where the exploited populations
are depleted, the fishery will be executed such that recovery and rebuilding is
allowed to occur to a specified level consistent with the precautionary approach and
the ability of the populations to produce long-term potential yields within a
specified time frame.
- Fishing is conducted in a manner that does not alter the age
or genetic structure or sex composition to a degree that impairs reproductive
Fishing operations should allow for the maintenance of the structure,
productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem (including habitat and
associated dependent and ecologically related species) on which the fishery depends.
- The fishery is conducted in a way that maintains natural functional
relationships among species and should not lead to trophic cascades or ecosystem
- The fishery is conducted in a manner that does not threaten
biological diversity at the genetic, species or population levels and avoids or
minimizes mortality of, or injuries to endangered, threatened or protected species.
- Where exploited populations are depleted, the fishery will be executed such that
recovery and rebuilding is allowed to occur to a specified level within specified
time frames, consistent with the precautionary approach and considering the ability
of the population to produce long-term potential yields
(see Principle 1, Criterion 3).
The fishery is subject to an effective management system that respects
local, national and international laws and standards and incorporates institutional
and operational frameworks that require use of the resource to be responsible and
The intent of this principle is to ensure that there is an institutional
and operational framework for implementing Principles 1 and 2, appropriate to the
size and scale of the fishery.
A. Management System Criteria (Summary)
Management criteria 1 through 11 deal with,
for example, compliance with international agreements, information flow within the
industry and between involved industries, cultural aspects, the periodical
examination of population numbers and efficient decision frameworks.
B. Operational Criteria (Summary)
Operational criteria 12 through 17 treat actual
fishing practices such as the methods and materials used in fishing in order to avoid
the capture of individuals that are too small, too young or of the wrong sex, and to
avoid bycatches wherever possible, returning them to the ocean alive (Editor's Note:
A very important aspect in connection with sharks). Fishing with explosive materials
or poisons is strictly forbidden.
he detailed MSC Priniciples and Criteria are found in the following website:
* Dr. Alexander Godknecht
is a biologist and president of the Shark Foundation and
member of the Shark Info Editorial Staff. He works in the IT Services Center of the
University of Zürich.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Dr. A. J. Godknecht