Sustainable fish is back in the news with Greenpeace claiming consumers are being ‘duped’ by the Marine Stewardship Council. Is the criticism valid – and does it make you sceptical about buying sustainable fish?
So, the MSC (the body responsible for the sustainable fish labelling system) has granted certification to some controversial fisheries, including the Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery. This is seen as a premature decision by some scientists and members of industry – and Greenpeace isn’t happy about it either.
It’s hardly new to hear people disagreeing about fish stock levels, but it isn’t often that the MSC – a widely respected organisation – comes in for such strong criticism. It also leaves consumers in a bit of a pickle.
Looking out for the label
Last year when we looked at sustainable fish labelling, we found seven labels relating to sustainability. But a third of the people we surveyed didn’t recognise any of them, 40% didn’t think labels gave enough information to buy sustainably at all, and a whopping 80% said supermarkets should only sell sustainable fish. Full. Stop.
Of the labels we looked at, the MSC was independent and the most comprehensive and widely spread, and we applauded retailers who were working closely with them. We called for them all to move to the MSC or equivalent standards, and ensure a consistent approach.
It still is the best of the lot, but reports like this undermine its credibility. A representative of the MSC has responded, insisting its methods were scientifically robust, but acknowledging that its test of sustainability weren’t enough for some of its critics.
Do you buy into sustainable fish?
So what do you make of all this – do you trust labels like the MSC despite criticisms? Or do you instead stick to certain types of seafood that are safer?
Maybe we need to stay away from fish entirely – but that flies in the face of health advice that we need to eat more, not less, fish. And where would that leave the industry – not to mention a staple of the British diet? Plus, we haven’t even talked about the ecological impacts of fish farming, GM salmon, bycatch and waste, or the presence of heavy metals in oily fish – all subjects far too complex for me to even attempt to cover in one post.
Here’s where I stand. When I purchase fish, I stay away from certain species that I know are threatened, like Monkfish and Dover Sole. I do buy organic-farmed salmon and prawns and rope-grown mussels, but I steer clear of trawled fish. When I choose tinned tuna I look for ‘pole and line caught’, not just ‘line caught’ or ‘dolphin-friendly’ which are limited in scope.
As for the MSC label, if I’m faced with the choice between a product that’s MSC-certified and one that isn’t, I’ll still choose MSC. But I’m all too aware that that doesn’t answer Greenpeace’s criticisms.