In 2011, the world’s first fishery for sharks was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council*. The British Columbia spiny dogfish fishery made major news in fisheries management and ocean conservation world, where the possible existence of sustainable shark fisheries has been debated intensely. A few years later, the fishery voluntarily withdrew their certification, and never publicly said why.
I wanted to know what happened with this scientific mystery. So, with the help of Chuck Bangley and Catherine Macdonald and funding support from the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellowship program, I organized a research expedition to find out. The results of our expedition can be found in our new paper (LINK,) (OPEN ACCESS AUTHOR COPY) but in this blog post, I’d like to explain what we did, what we found, and why we think it’s important.
I’d like to introduce you to a new series I’ve been working on called “Conservation Conversations”. Each discussion, which will take place first on twitter, will focus on a particular marine conservation issue. I will then Storify and share selected responses here on the blog, allowing the conversation to continue.
The first conservation conversation focused on sustainable seafood. A new paper showed that many fisheries scientists and conservationists believe that the Marine Stewardship Council’s “sustainable seafood” certification process is too lenient, a topic I’ve written about before. I wanted to know how my twitter followers decide what seafood is sustainable. I also asked whether they choose to avoid seafood entirely or focus on sustainable seafood.
Jordan Nikoloyuk is the Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator of the Ecology Action Centre, a membership-based community environmental organization based in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Marine Issues Committee of the EAC was founded in 1995 after the collapse of the Atlantic Canadian groundfish stocks and works towards conserving and protecting marine ecosystems and maintaining sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.
As part of its sustainable seafood work and through its Friends of Hector campaign – www.friendsofhector.org – the EAC has participated in many Marine Stewardship Council assessments for Atlantic Canadian fisheries and encouraged retailers to support certified fisheries. Jordan has written this guest post to share his recent experiences with a certification that has left the EAC and other conservation organizations wondering whether seafood certification can contribute to sustainable fisheries management in the long term, or if the conflict between keeping an eco-label rigorous on the one hand and expanding its market appeal on the other is just too difficult to manage. What do you think?
The best way to buy seafood responsibly is to read a sustainable seafood guide and ask your retailer the two big questions: where is this from and how was it caught? When getting these answers is tough, many people turn to eco-certifications and labelling. Despite some increasingly controversial certifications, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is considered to be the most trusted and reliable label, but how many unsustainable fishery certifications will it take to ruin this credibility?
Last week, after lengthy and widespread opposition, the MSC approved certification of the Atlantic Canadian longline swordfish fishery, which catches 100,000 sharks and 1,400 endangered sea turtles every year. The Ecology Action Centre spent almost two years working to oppose this greenwashing. Now we are left asking: how can we promote sustainable fisheries with organizations the size of the MSC working against us? When a definition of sustainability is so weak that it lets the status quo continue, can this be seen as an effective ‘market-driven solution’?
While we can all celebrate the recent passage of California’s shark fin ban, sharks still need your help! The government of Western Australia is planning a “shark cull”, intentionally killing large numbers of threatened species to reduce the probability of shark attacks. The Marine Stewardship Council is considering granting “sustainable” status to a fishery with huge shark bycatch issues (an issue we originally covered last year). The European Union, one of the largest shark fishing entities in the world, still has large loopholes in their shark fishing policy. In the past few weeks, I’ve been contacted by conservation organizations working on these issues, and they need our help! Please consider signing the petitions listed below, and please consider telling interested friends and colleagues. As I’ve written many times before here on Southern Fried Science, I don’t support just any petition, but these are all from legitimate people and organizations and I have chosen to sign all three.
In a world where greenwashing, overfishing, bycatch and pirate fishing run rampant, it can be difficult for eco-conscious consumers to know what to buy. Many eco-certification agencies exist, but they often offer conflicting advice. Who should you listen to?