The Greenpeace Austria Seal of Approval Guide: Absolutely not trustworthy

The MSC accuses Greenpeace of consumer deception (PHOTO)

Berlin (ots) - The MSC vehemently rejects the statements in the latest "Seal of Approval Guide" from Greenpeace Austria. Greenpeace sometimes formulates false statements and does not provide important contextual information. In addition, the evaluation methodology of this so-called "analysis" is opaque, which methodology the evaluation of the seal is based on remains unclear. Measured against the transparency rules set up by Greenpeace itself, the “Seal of Approval Guide” can be classified as dark red: Absolutely not trustworthy.

The MSC standard is the world's strictest standard for sustainable fishing. It is science-based, yet complex and complicated. Because simple solutions can only rarely be offered for complex problems, even if they get more clicks and newspaper lines. What remains are misled consumers who, when in doubt, resort to conventional goods and “punish” those fisheries that have invested in more environmentally friendly practices. Will this help the seas? In our opinion not.

Read below our answers to the allegations and false statements contained in the Greenpeace Seal Guide about the MSC program and marine protection.

GP: "The certification is awarded too early in the process: partly to fisheries that meet an initial set of standards, but also only present an action plan for improvements in the future".

All MSC-certified fisheries work sustainably and must meet all 28 sustainability indicators of the MSC standard. Where there is still potential for improvement, certified sustainable fisheries are given so-called requirements. They must implement these within a specified period of time.

Certification requirements are a common procedure, for example also in organic certification. They are an integral part of the MSC program and an important lever for continuous improvement, including in sustainable fisheries. In the last 20 years, around 2.000 improvements have been achieved through requirements - from additional bycatch reductions to more stringent controls to further research. Annual audits are carried out to determine whether a fishery is implementing its requirements appropriately. If a fishery does not meet its requirements, the certificate will be withdrawn.

Worldwide, 15 percent of all catches currently come from sustainable, MSC-certified fisheries. This means that the MSC (after almost 25 years of existence) is still in a niche. And it is not a lack of interest on the part of the fisheries that keeps that percentage so low, but the level of our requirements.

GP: "Even fisheries that destroy the seabed with bottom trawls in the long term can be MSC-certified".

A fishery that causes lasting damage to the seabed cannot receive the MSC seal! This is prescribed by the MSC environmental standard! When assessing the sustainability of a fishery, however, it does not make sense to categorically exclude certain fishing gear. It's not scientific

correct that all bottom trawls are destructive, just as all other fishing equipment (nets, traps, fish traps, fishing rods, etc.) is per se good and sustainable. Example: In fact, even a single use of a bottom trawl on corals causes damage that will only heal in many thousands of years. So absolutely not sustainable. On the other hand, if bottom trawls are used in the eastern English Channel, for example, in an area where the tidal current transfers huge amounts of sand twice a day, then the fishery does no measurable and, above all, no long-term damage to the disturbance-adapted system. If light driftnets are used in the same area, they do not touch the ground, but they may catch dolphins. So it is likely that bottom trawls are the greener alternative in this area.

It is always important to consider the individual case in order to make statements about the sustainability of fishing gear and that is exactly what the MSC does. To rule out an entire fishing method across the board would mean blocking the path and incentive for many fisheries to work more sustainably. Bottom trawling takes place 25 percent of the world's catch. They don't stop fishing just because Greenpeace condemns them. It is more expedient to incentivize fisheries to minimize their impact on the seas and to use their fishing gear exclusively in a sustainable manner.

GP: "A high bycatch rate is not a reason for exclusion for MSC"

There is no commercial fishing entirely without bycatch. However, an MSC-certified fishery may only have so much by-catch that the stocks of the caught species are not endangered. How much bycatch is "acceptable" depends on the species caught and the size of its stock. The bycatch of a single (threatened) great hammerhead shark per year can be critical, while the bycatch of over 1.000 blue sharks (the world's most common shark species) per year can be scientifically and biologically harmless. At least that's the science-based approach. We are aware that this can be seen differently from a moral or emotional point of view. We have to live with that as a science-based organization. And therefore require every certified fishery to reduce its bycatch wherever possible to below the scientifically and biologically acceptable level.

GP: "Fish from overfished stocks is also certified"

This statement is wrong. The MSC requirements do not allow fishing for an overfished stock. MSC-certified fisheries must fish a stock in such a way that its long-term profitability is secured. The certificate is withdrawn from a certified fishery whose stocks are slipping into the red zone - as was the case not so long ago, for example, from the cod and herring fisheries in the western Baltic Sea.

GP: “The so-called“ finning ”is not completely prohibited at MSC. In this practice, the dorsal fin of a shark is severed - sometimes the animals that are still alive are thrown back into the sea ”.

This statement is wrong. The MSC environmental standard clearly and completely prohibits finning. Fisheries that practice finning cannot be certified. Should a case of finning occur in a certified fishery, the affected boats will be suspended.

As part of our regular standard revision, we are currently also checking whether the current requirements continue to correspond to global best practice and prevent finning as best as possible.

GP: "83 percent of the fish that is MSC certified today comes from large fishing fleets with industrial vessels up to 150 meters long".

Greenpeace uses the common antagonisms “big / threatening” and “small / harmless” to form unreflected opinions. In fact, the sustainability of a fishery is not determined by its size per se. It is crucial that the stocks and ecosystem are not endangered by fishing. This can also be guaranteed by large fisheries - provided they adhere to the rules of sustainable fishing. The big fisheries that bear the MSC label do that.

Especially in light of the fact that it is on our oceans - undeniably! - there are many large fisheries that plunder fish stocks and endanger the ecosystem, it should also be in Greenpeace's interest that we get more large fisheries to meet strict sustainability requirements such as those of the MSC seal. The idea of ​​a world with only small, artisanal fisheries, as Greenpeace may have in mind, is not real. In order to be able to use renewable fish stocks optimally to feed the world population, we need small and large fisheries. In the interests of the environment, both large and small must fish sustainably.

It is true that there are currently fewer small fisheries than large ones that bear the MSC seal. Small artisanal fisheries, especially in countries in the Global South, are often faced with particular challenges with regard to sustainability certification: a lack of scientific data, e.g. on the stocks fished, institutional weaknesses, a lack of controls and financial restrictions. Our commitment to small fisheries therefore goes far beyond our certification program. In special funding programs, we are currently working with over 100 small fisheries worldwide to support them financially, with research and with know-how on their way to more sustainability. We hope that one day they will be able to meet the demanding criteria of our certification program and bear the MSC seal.

GP: “There are no social factors in the MSC certification. Forced labor on FCF ships was documented in a Greenpeace report. "

The MSC condemns the use of forced labor and all forms of human exploitation in the fishing industry and related sectors.

So far, the MSC standard - like many other standards, such as the EU organic seal - has in fact been a pure environmental standard. However, we see the importance of social issues and are looking for opportunities to cooperate with organizations that are able to set a social standard

develop that meets the special challenges of applicability on the high seas. We have already defined clear guidelines for forced labor in the land-based supply chain.

With regard to the statement that forced labor was documented on FCF ships, it remains to be clarified to what extent these fishermen are MSC-certified. Should there be any information in this regard, we can only urgently ask Greenpeace to share it with us immediately so that we can react accordingly!

GP: "In the meantime, 65 to 90 percent of the frozen fish products in domestic supermarkets bear the MSC or ASC mark".

Worldwide only 15 percent of all wild fish catches come from sustainable, MSC-certified fisheries. We are pleased that Austria, Switzerland and Germany are playing a pioneering role when it comes to sustainability and that consumers can choose from a relatively high proportion of sustainable fish products. However, this in no way reflects the global situation.

We are currently having an independent market survey carried out in Austria and are pleased to be able to publish precise figures on the Austrian fish supply shortly.

GP: "Although 90 percent of the fish stocks in the seas are considered overfished or fished to the limit, MSC is constantly certifying new fisheries".

The fact that Greenpeace criticizes the MSC continuously certifying new fisheries is not only factually wrong, but from a marine protection point of view one thing above all else: absurd. On the one hand, the MSC share of global wild fish has been increasing only very slowly for years (after 25 years it is currently 15%). Above all, however, every single fishery that decides to focus on sustainability means a gain for the health of the oceans. Greenpeace suggests that more certified fisheries also mean more fishing. That's absurd. More certified fisheries mean: more sustainable fisheries. And that means: less overfishing and better protected seas.

The statement by Greenpeace that 90% of the stocks fished worldwide are “overfished or fished to the limit” is also misleading. In fact, according to the FAO, 34 percent of the world's stocks are overfished - 66 percent are in good condition (see graphic).

According to the FAO - the originator of these figures - the stocks that Greenpeace describes as "fished to the limit" and simply throws them into a "90 percent" pot with the overexploited stocks are considered to have been used optimally.

With this opinion, Greenpeace Austria deviates from the point of view of the MSC and many other institutions and organizations involved in marine protection. Even if there are no marine scientists working at Greenpeace Austria, it can be assumed that the Siegel-Guide authors did not accidentally make such mistakes, but are deliberately made to dramatize, polarize and attract attention. We consider this type of communication to be counterproductive.

Our wish: More objective discussion, less populism

The MSC has always been designed as a multi-stakeholder organization. Opportunities to have a say and criticism from all relevant interest groups are an integral part of our program. We have also invited Greenpeace several times to participate in the further development of our standard.

What we all need is an objective and differentiated discussion - with the problems and possible solutions for our oceans in general, but also with the MSC. What doesn't help anyone is blind populism.

Inquiries & contact:

Andrea Harmsen, spokeswoman for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Tel: + 49 / (0) 30/609855210, Email: andrea.harmsen@msc.org