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Response to Netflix film

March 26, 2021

Our Seaspiracy response: sustainable fishing does exist and helps protect our oceans.

Stormy sea seen from above

The Seaspiracy film on Netflix raises a wide range of issues relating to our oceans, including questioning the credibility of the sustainable seafood movement and in particular, our organization, the Marine Stewardship Council. While we agree more attention needs to be given to the crisis of overfishing, we declined to be interviewed for the film, because we were concerned that we would not get a fair hearing from a production team that already believed the only way to protect the oceans is by not eating fish.

But we do want to set the record straight on some of the misleading claims in the film:   

There is no such thing as sustainable fishing

This is wrong.

One of the amazing things about our oceans is that fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully for the long-term. Examples of where this has happened and stocks have come back from the brink include the Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Oceans or the recovery of Namibian hake, after years of overfishing by foreign fleets, or the increase in some of our major tuna stocks globally. And what is even more amazing, is that if we take care of our fish stocks – they take care of us. Research shows that fish stocks that are well-managed and sustainable, are also more productive in the long-term, meaning there is more seafood for our growing global population, which is set to reach 10 billion by 2050.   

MSC certification is too easy and not credible

The reform of fishing practices and the growth of the sustainable seafood movement is something that the MSC is very proud to have played a part in, along with many other partners and organizations. There are more than 400 MSC-certified fisheries around the world. This certification process is not carried out by the MSC – it is independent of us and carried out by expert assessment bodies. It is an entirely transparent process and NGOs and others have multiple opportunities to provide input. All our assessments can be viewed online at Track a Fishery.

Only fisheries that meet the rigorous requirements of our Standard get certified. Contrary to what the film-makers say, certification is not an easy process, and some fisheries spend many years improving their practices in order to reach our standard. In fact, our analysis shows that the vast majority of fisheries that carry out pre-assessments against our criteria, do not meet these and need to make significant improvements to gain certification.   

MSC is funded by industry and is not independent 

The MSC is an independent not-for-profit that was set up by WWF and Unilever more than 20 years ago because of concern about overfishing. We are not a commercial enterprise and we do not receive any income from fisheries or from the third-party certification of fisheries. 

Our income is derived from two sources: charitable donations from foundations, and licensing of our blue ecolabel, which is used by companies in the supply chain, such as food producers, supermarkets, and restaurants to identify MSC-certified seafood. The use of our ecolabel is voluntary, and only a fraction of seafood coming from certified sustainable fisheries bears our ecolabel.  

The MSC is entirely transparent about its market-based funding model. We believe consumer demand for sustainable seafood products helps to drive reform of the fishing industry, incentivizing the take-up of sustainable fishing practices.  All of the income from licensing use goes back into our program of work.

This includes, for example, providing grants through our Ocean Stewardship Fund, to support fisheries in the developing world.     

MSC certified fisheries have unacceptable levels of bycatch

In fact, fisheries certified to the MSC Standard must provide evidence that they are actively minimizing unwanted catch. Fisheries that need to improve in this area, can be set goals that they have to meet in order to keep their certificates or risk being suspended.  We believe the Icelandic fishery mentioned in Seaspiracy falls into this latter category. It was suspended from the program because of bycatch issues and only allowed back into the program when they had been resolved.

There are numerous positive examples of MSC-certified fisheries introducing innovations to protect marine life, such as modifying gear type to decrease turtle bycatch or adding LED lights to increase the selectivity of catch. Among some notable achievements by MSC certified fisheries is a rock lobster fishery in Australia that reduced its bycatch of sea lions and a hake fishery in South Africa that reduced its bycatch of albatross by 99%.   


Sustainable fishing helps protect our oceans and us

While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, it is worth remembering that while veganism is an entirely legitimate choice for many people, millions more around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources.
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