Study Finds Low Standards for Sustainable Seafood Certification

Written by on April 19, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law
Researchers examined MSC certified Chilean sea bass, Antarctic krill, Canadian swordfish and other fisheries to   see if they met MSC's standards.

Researchers examined MSC certified Chilean sea bass, Antarctic krill, Canadian swordfish and other fisheries to see if they met MSC’s standards. Photo credit: the justified sinner via photopin cc.

As if IUU fishing and seafood fraud weren’t enough to turn the simple task of buying seafood into a total guessing game, we now have yet another issue to worry about: Is the seafood that’s labeled “sustainable” really sustainable?

Back in February, NPR published a three-part series by Daniel Zwerdling and Margot Williams on this issue, focusing on the popular Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. It led to a pretty heated debate between NPR, MSC and concerned environmentalists that never really concluded. And now, a new study confirms that the “sustainable fishing” certification by MSC is far too lenient.

In case you missed it, here’s a very brief summary of the NPR series and the MSC’s response.

MSC’s certification program was designed to provide consumers with “the best environmental choices in seafood.” Some conservation groups disagree with this claim, leading a team of researchers to examine 19 formal objections to specific MSC certified fisheries including Chilean sea bass, Antarctic krill, Canadian swordfish, Alaska pollock and more. The (expensive) objections were filed mostly by conservation groups and were heard by a an independent adjudicator appointed by MSC. In 18 of the 19 cases, the certification was upheld.

The new study was designed to determine if the fisheries in these cases actually meet MSC standards, which are based on three categories: effective management, low environmental impact and overall sustainability of the fish stock. The researchers found that many of these fisheries (35 percent of eco-labeled seafood) did not meet those standards.

The results of this study lead the authors to conclude that MSC standards are too lenient and discretionary and that “the MSC label may be misleading both consumers and conservation funders.”

Study co-author Claire Christian sums it up nicely: “When the MSC labels a swordfish fishery that catches more sharks than swordfish ‘sustainable,’ it’s time to re-evaluate its standards.”

To learn more, check out these links:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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