Sustainable Fish Logos: Not All They’re Made Out To Be

According to New Scientist Magazine some fish that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the largest independent certifier of sustainable fisheries, have certified as sustainable with their eco- label may not be in fact sustainable. It turns out that a study from Clemson University in South Carolina found that some fish that carry the MSC-certified eco-label come from unsustainable fisheries or are the wrong species altogether.

It all started with a study of Patagonian toothfish that were sold as “Chilean sea bass.” Only one fishery, around the island of South Georgia in the Southern Ocean, is certified as sustainably fished by the MSC. But, Peter Marko of Clemson University in South Carolina and colleagues bought 36 certified fish from shops across the US and checked their DNA. They found that not all the fish being sold as MSC-certified Chilean sea bass came from South Georgia. Three came from entirely different species and five carried genetic markers not found in the South Georgia population. “A significant proportion is coming from some other place,” says Marko.

To their credit, the MSC, which has had its share of (critics and skeptics) seems to be taking the finding seriously. “We are very concerned about the results,” says Amy Jackson, MSC’s deputy standards director. The group has launched an investigation. Whoever is responsible could have their certification withdrawn.  If MSC does yank certification then they will be going far to being an great eco-label.  If not, well, then maybe their critics are right?

Photo: LotusHead at sxc.hu.

Written by Jennifer Kaplan

Jennifer Kaplan is a former marketing consultant who decided, at the age of fifty, to turn her hand to creative non-fiction. Jennifer continues to write about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for Insteading (and EatDrinkBetter.com before the two sites merged) and is the author of Greening Your Small Business. She was also named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster, and an MBA – follow her on Twitter.

2 Comments

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  1. We are very concerned about the results in Current Biology and have launched an investigation. We have approached the authors to share their data with us and once we have conducted a full review of the products reported as mislabelled, we will publish the outcome of our investigation and provide information relating to actions the MSC has taken.

    Because the MSC Chain of Custody programme requires full traceability at every point of the supply chain, our investigation will be able to identify if any breach has occurred and pinpoint exactly where in the supply chain it happened. If proven, it could result in the suspension or withdrawal of their Chain of Custody certificate.

    The MSC has a long running programme of DNA testing as part of its commitment to ensuring robust and credible chain of custody certification. Results analysed by the TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network in 2009 showed that all samples of MSC certified South Georgian (Patagonian) toothfish came from the MSC certified fishery.

    • Thank you so much for your response, Amy! If you guys are interested in guest posting at Eat Drink Better to share a bit more about your process and how you’re responding to this news, I’d be happy to chat about it! You can email me at becky AT importantmedia DOT org.

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