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Supporting Healthy Oceans with Sustainable Seafood

June 8, 2019

How you can help to protect our oceans through seafood

In the cold rough waters of the Bering Sea, Alaska pollock congregate in a cold pool – a patch of water near the bottom of the sea where ocean currents meet. These cousins to cod are an abundant fish found throughout Alaskan waters and make up one of the largest fisheries in the world. In 2005, the fishery earned MSC certification, making it the largest certified sustainable fishery in the world. If you’re in the United States with a nearby McDonald’s, you’re never too far away from a piece of certified sustainable seafood – McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich is made with MSC certified wild Alaska pollock. The importance of sustainability is more relevant now than ever, as our oceans face increased pressures from environmental stressors, and global demand.

Our oceans cover two-thirds of the planet, so it’s no wonder they feed millions, provide jobs to one in ten people worldwide, and are a place of perpetual enchantment and discovery. While the oceans can be incredibly productive, the rich and diverse resources they provide are not infinite. This fact became profoundly clear in the early 1990s with the collapse of Canada’s Grand Banks cod fishery which had been depleted due to severe overfishing. Over 35,000 fishermen and industry workers from more than 400 coastal communities lost their jobs. In response, and to prevent an over-exploited ocean, the MSC was created jointly by the World Wildlife Foundation and Unilever, a company dependent on selling Canada’s cod to consumers.

Over the past twenty years, the MSC has worked with scientists, industry groups, stakeholders, and conservation groups to create a science-based fisheries standard for seafood sustainability that meets the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing, among other global benchmarks. The MSC Standard consists of three cores principles that every fishery must meet:

  1. Sustainable fish stocks – Ensuring there are enough fish left in the ocean is crucial to maintaining a healthy ocean
  2. Minimal environmental impact – Minimizing the impacts that fishing activity has on local ecosystems allows marine life to thrive
  3. Effective fisheries management – Complying with relevant laws and adapting to changing environmental circumstances ensures long-term viability of a fishery.

For a fishery to earn certification, assessment is conducted by an independent third party, which means the MSC does not assess or certify fisheries. The third-party system assures that the outcomes of assessments are free from influence of either the fishery seeking certification or the MSC.

The MSC program is voluntary, which means fisheries are not required to become certified sustainable. Currently, 18 percent of the world’s fisheries are certified sustainable under the MSC program. By 2020, the MSC hopes that number will jump to twenty percent; and by 2030, thirty. This is where seafood lovers around the world have the power to effect change.

Eighty-one percent of North American seafood consumers believe that seafood must be protected for future generations. To protect seafood as a food source and livelihood, fishing must be done sustainably. The MSC’s program addresses the destructive problem of overfishing. Fisheries and companies that are certified sustainable against the MSC Standard are entitled to use the MSC blue fish logo on their products, indicating their commitment to maintaining healthy, thriving oceans. Consumers who want to protect our oceans need only look for and choose the blue fish logo on seafood products – fresh, canned, frozen, pet food, and even fish oil supplements - at their local grocery store. On World Oceans Day, an everyday, small choices at the grocery store can make a big difference for our ocean. Together – the MSC, consumers, and the coastal communities and industry workers committed to protecting our bountiful seas – we can enjoy all that our oceans provide today, tomorrow, and always.

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