Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Consumers & Seafood Certification
What can a consumer do to more easily determine whether a specific seafood is sustainable or not?
Consumers need something simple, quick and trustworthy, and third party certifications can provide that solution. Such third party certifications can provide labels for seafood, vouching for the sustainability of the product, and consumers can then rely on those labels when purchasing seafood. That makes the buying decision much easier for consumers. They don't need to spend time asking lots of questions of the purveyor. All they have to do is look for a trusted label. It couldn't be any simpler for them.
There are a growing number of third party certifications for seafood sustainability, from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). Each has its own standards and covers its own types of seafood. There are also organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch which provide seafood sustainability recommendations but don't issue actual certifications. All of these groups do the difficult work of sustainability assessment, making their results available to the general public, and often for free.
As for the basics consumers need to know, they first need to understand that these certifications exist, and that they indicate the sustainability of the seafood. That requires such certification organizations to engage in media campaigns to make consumers aware of their existence. It requires fish markets, grocery stores, restaurants and others to make their customers aware of the certification labels on their seafood. It needs the media to spread the word, highlighting the positive work of these certification bodies. Unless consumers are educated, they won't be able to select seafood based on these certifications.
Second, consumers must learn that they cannot rely on a single certification for all their seafood decisions. Instead, they need to accept the validity of multiple certifications, as each specific certification has its limitations. For example, the MSC only certifies wild fisheries while the ASC only certifies aquaculture. Both certifications are equally valid and indicate sustainable seafood, just in different areas. If consumers seek only a single certification label, then they will be missing out on plenty of sustainable seafood.
Another advantage to the proliferation if third party certification groups is that it seems to be leading to the creation of even stricter standards. The different groups want to differentiate themselves from the others and adhering to stricter standards is one way to do so. For example, the ASC, which was founded in 2010, created standards which include social issues, from worker safety to wages. This could be the future of sustainability, a consideration of not only the health of the oceans and fish, but also the health and safety of the workers involved in the industry. The more certification groups that embrace such social standards, makes the seafood industry better for all.
Spread the word about third party certifications, and let consumers understand their value. Let's have more consumers opt for sustainable seafood by making it easier for them to do so.