Lesson 1 in how not to earn credibility

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is one of these environmental-certifying organizations that have kind of become like underwear.

A couple days ago, the MSC announced it has made a “determination” that B.C. sockeye fisheries should be certified within the MSC principles – or in other words that these fisheries are “sustainable” and should be labeled as such in the marketplace.

Note that this includes the sockeye fishery on the Fraser of which a judicial inquiry has been launched to try and find out why only 10% of predicted sockeye returned this year.

After a 15-day “objection period” for folks to submit objections, the fisheries can then be certified by MSC.

Needless to say, there are some significant objections to this imminent certification. Some of these can be read in Mark Hume’s Globe and Mail article from the other day – comments such as ‘green washing’ and ‘eco-fraud’ seem common.

The main office for MSC is based in London, UK with satellite offices around the world including Seattle, WA.

uydThe MSC’s fishery certification program and seafood ecolabel recognise and reward sustainable fishing. We are a global organisation working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood.

By getting MSC certification various fisheries can then apply the MSC label to their products (similar to the dolphin-friendly label on tuna, or fair trade coffee). The apparent advantage to being certified is:

Being part of the MSC program will set you apart from competitors and give your company a selling point to win new markets. Just as importantly, it will ensure that the seafood you are offering to customers today will continue to be available in future, and your company will have switched towards a sustainable business model.

I’ll be straight-up, I was rather confused in reading the headlines that a fishery, that wasn’t actually a fishery this year, could be certified as sustainable. On the Fraser River, over 10 million sockeye were predicted to return – about 1 million made it back. Basically, every fishery was shut down.

But, say, I guess a non-fishery is sustainable right?

Kind of like the passenger-pigeon hunt last year in Alabama… Or the dodo clubbing festival in the South Pacific last month…

In the case of certifying the Skeena sockeye fishery as “sustainable” – I don’t really see a difference between this and say an Alberta elk or bison farmer inviting American big-game hunters on to their farm, pulling the farm tags from the ears, and calling it eco-friendly, “sustainable hunting.”

Or, just let big game hunters loose on the streets of  Jasper, AB where one has to be careful walking at night so as not to get in the way of a “rutting” elk (i.e. not much difference than closing time at a dance bar…).

The only difference is that at least, wild elk and bison wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.  The bulk of the sockeye caught in the Skeena fisheries are either hatchery raised, or a product of “enhanced” habitat in the Babine area. Only problem, is that schools of salmon don’t travel segregated by hatchery fish or wild fish. Or, even by different species. Thus, endangered steelhead are often caught as by-catch in sockeye fisheries – as well as endangered wild sockeye that may be from a different area than the hatchery-enhanced sockeye.

I suppose maybe we can start inviting Americans from the east coast and get them to troll in a Broughton Archipelago fish farm:

“Look, Homer, why fish east coast rivers when you can come out here and catch atlantic salmon on every cast?”

(now, that’s a sustainable fishery).

Ok, rants and riffs aside. I figured I’d start to dig a little further to at least try and learn how and why these sockeye fisheries are poised to be certified as eco-friendly and sustainable. Or, what I might need to do to lodge an “objection” within the 15-day MSC objection period. I read the executive summary of the report and it states:

Readers should note that in order to appropriately review this report, it is critical to review this report concurrently with other documents, particularly the information submission which was prepared by DFO to respond to the performance indicators which were developed by the Assessment Team to evaluate the fishery.

Only problem: there are 3 Volumes of reports. Total pages: 542.

Furthermore, if I want to lodge an objection – there are only two very specific items that I can comment on.

Lastly, in big letters and a page unto itself on the MSC website is an entire section on “Credibility“:

The MSC is committed to being the world’s leading certification program for sustainable wild-capture seafood. We seek to deliver a robust, effective and accessible certification program that keeps up with the latest scientific knowledge and industry practices.

Ok, yup. And better yet:

How we meet best practice

The MSC program enables consumers and seafood buyers around the world to make the best environmental choice in seafood. Underpinned by best practice guidelines for ecolabelling and certification, we follow international, professional benchmarks to promote robust processes and uphold our values of independence, transparency, impartiality and stakeholder consultation.

If you haven’t read my previous posts on Bumpf – please visit that category.

Please note: (humble opinion here) MSC, if you want credibility don’t hide behind empty bumpf words, or, thousands of pages of data.

Credibility is one of those things like trust: you can’t state it, or demand it, YOU EARN IT.

And the difficult lesson that ‘certifying’ bodies, and corporations, learn is that once you earn it – boy, is it easy to completely lose it in a couple of bad decisions.

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