“Fishermen are worried a certification row will confuse consumers, says Jane Rankin-Reid in Saturday’s Mercury newspaper.
Fishermen are unhappy with radio advertisements sponsored by the Marine Stewardship Council promoting their March 2nd “Sustainable Seafood Day”. “Buy only sustainable seafood products branded with the MSC gold label”, the advertisement urges listeners.
“We haven’t been advised of Sustainable Seafood day”, snorts Rodney Treloggen, CEO of the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association. “This aggressive campaign is really only about internal certification industry rivalry. Its very bad for the local fishing industry to send false messages to consumers when we’re working so hard to protect our fish stocks and have achieved so much in this region.” Many Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association members has undertaken a voluntary industry initiated program, the award winning, Clean Green, MSC’s main Australian rival, which also runs best practice environmental and fishery stock management awareness courses for local fishermen. “We’ve yet to see the market need to sign up for MSC’s certification program” says Treloggen. It’s very expensive at $200,000 per fishery. I’m not sure of the benefits to Tasmania, given the success of our own sustainability initiatives.” All exporting Australian fisheries must be certified with the Federal Environmental Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act. “We must be certified every 5 years and if we don’t get it, we’re can’t export. It’s more far reaching than MSC certification”, says Treloggen.
The Marine Stewardship Council is a prominent UK charitable foundation, sponsored by leading British supermarket chains, Tescos, Marks and Spencers, Whole Foods Market Inc and multinational food corporation Unilever, Europe’s largest seafood importer. Seafood sustainability certification has become big business in Europe with consumers increasingly urged to shop with their consciences. But MSC’s certification outreach has had little impact in Australia to date with only two regional fishing bodies, the West Australian Rock Lobster and the Australian Mackerel Icefish (Heard and MacDonald Islands) fisheries signed on to its program.
The MSC’s fifteen month certification process is “onerous”, according to West Australian Fishing Industry Council CEO Guy Leyland, but worth it for Australian fisheries aiming to sell in US and UK retail markets where consumers are increasingly demanding independent third party sustainability certification for their seafood products. Although West Australian rock lobster is the only Australian fishery certified in WAFIC’s catchment to date, very few if any of its MSC gold labeled products are actually available to Australian consumers. Why promote the MSC exclusive “Sustainable Seafood Day” when there are so few certified products available to Australian seafood buyers? “It’s political”, says Leyland. “It’s about creating consumer awareness so there’ll be demand for sustainability certification”.
“That’s a complete load of…”, says Treloggan. “It’s a negative scare campaign, manipulating local consumers to reject Tasmania’s award winning Clean Green standards. Why promote a consumer branding program with no products available if they’re not trying to muscle in on local certification turf and create serious doubt in Australian shoppers’ minds about the integrity of our industry?” In Britain earlier this month, another aggressive MSC sponsored sustainable seafood campaign backfired badly, when condemnation from the UK’s statuary marine agency Seafish, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ organization and rival certification body Friends of the Sea accused MSC of “confusing rather than educating consumers”, by sponsoring the World Wildlife Foundation’s “Stinky Fish” Sustainable Seafood Shopping Survey. The WWF’s online viral marketing campaign is anchored by an animated puppet, Stinky Fish who interrogates restaurant owners and fish sellers about their seafood’s sources. Launched in mid January, Stinky Fish advises seafood shoppers to only buy fish that bears the exclusive MSC gold label for sustainability fishing assurance because “everything else is stinky!” Although MSC staff initially believed Stinky Fish would raise awareness about sustainable fishing amongst a hard to reach online audience, “they did not foresee the negative reaction that the video would engender with its partners and colleagues in the seafood industry”, MSC said in a statement last week. As the charity distanced itself from the fishing furor, it advised WWF to immediately remove any reference to MSC from its website.
“Seafood Sustainability Day” is designed to raise Australian consumers’ awareness quickly”, says Duncan Ledbetter, MSC’s Asian Pacific representative. “You’ve got to remember that as much as 70% of seafood sold in Australia is imported. A lot of the fish products available in Coles and Woolies are not from sustainable fisheries, so looking for a sustainability label is a good thing”. Ledbetter insists that MSC’s radio advertising campaign doesn’t condemn non certified seafood but Australia’s fishing industry experts worry that sending confusing messages to shoppers will do far more harm than good.
from The Mercury in Tasmania, Saturday March 1, 2008