The Environmental Community’s Leading Critiques of the MSC
Dr. Tim Essington of the MSC technical advisory board on the environmental community’s leading critiques of the MSC:
1. Conflict of interest. The third party certification bodies that conduct the assessments are hired by the fisheries that are seeking certification. Thus, they have a conflict of interest to make certification as easy to achieve as possible. Although an independent auditor oversees these bodies and can revoke accreditation should they fail to follow the MSC standards and procedures, there is “gray area” in expert judgment of the assessment process and scoring where this conflict of interest can come into play.
2. Fisheries are certified even though they do not meet minimum requirements. To be certified, fisheries must average a high score (in grade terms, thank of this as a B average) across all performance measures, and cannot fail any single measure. Suppose a fishery maintains an average score of a B+, has no failing scores, but has one C score. Under the MSC system, these fisheries are awarded certification but have to submit and adhere to a plan for improvement. In this way, the MSC system is designed to raise the performance of fisheries by making continued certification contingent on making specific improvements. Nonetheless, some fisheries are awarded certification with several C grades, raising the ire of environmental groups who view this as giving fisheries a free pass.
3. What constitutes “sustainable”? Most of us can envision a perfect fishery – one that has no impacts on non-target species, habitats or ecosystems, is well managed, maintains conservative fishing rates, and has broad stakeholder participation in decision making. We can easily identify examples of clear fishery failures with unsustainable and poor management practices. Disagreement comes from the middle – fisheries that are pretty good, but not perfect. Do we only want to certify fisheries that get all A’s, or is it better to certify a B+ fishery, contingent on them improving and thereby having a larger impact on fishing practices?
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