Market Overview

Conservationists Launch Official Objection to Eco-Certification of Troubled Canadian Salmon Fisheries

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VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Feb. 10, 2010) - Last month the U.K.-based Marine Stewardship Council announced their intent to award their coveted eco-label to BC's contentious Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery.

MSC is a global eco-label program which enables certified fisheries to brand themselves as a sustainable source of seafood. Sustainable seafood is generally defined as species with healthy populations, harvested from well-managed fisheries that don't cause significant harm to ocean environments and other sea life. Major European retailers have recently committed to selling only MSC-certified seafood in their stores, and major North American retailers, such as Whole Foods and Wal-Mart, are not far behind.

Today, a coalition of BC conservationists filed a notice of objection with the MSC's head office in London, focusing on the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery. This fishery recently became the subject of a federal judicial inquiry due to a worsening population collapse and widespread concerns over mismanagement.

"Scientists have shown that salmon populations in the Fraser River are at very low levels and at risk of extinction," said Dr. Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. "It would be highly irresponsible to label these endangered salmon a sustainable choice unless the fisheries management system is improved, overfishing stops, and depressed stocks are given a chance to recover."

Some sockeye stocks harvested in the soon to be certified fishery are listed as "endangered" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature whose team of scientists point to overfishing as a key threat. Last year, the Fraser sockeye population collapsed when only 13% of the expected 10.5 million fish returned to spawn.

Under the MSC's third-party certification process, companies are hired by fishing industry "clients" to determine whether a fishery meets the MSC's criteria for eco-certification.

"These companies are doing brisk business by certifying fisheries," said Dr. Orr. "But given the state of Fraser sockeye, people should be more concerned about conservation than marketing fish. Our objection focuses on several areas where the third-party certifier has ignored crucial data and awarded passing grades to a fishery which should have failed."

Last week, representatives from these same organizations attended an international seafood summit in Paris, where they denounced the MSC's intention to certify Fraser sockeye, reaching out to European seafood buyers, media, and conservationists such as Greenpeace International.

"We are determined to expose the failures of the MSC's certification process in order to protect well-intentioned consumers from being misled," said Greg Knox, executive director for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. "If this certification goes ahead, European consumers who attempt to make ethical purchasing decisions by choosing MSC certified fish, could end up eating endangered Canadian salmon."

"Fraser River sockeye is the latest unsustainable fishery to have applied for certification by the MSC," said Mr. Young. "They are now poised to certify the Atlantic longline swordfish fishery as sustainable, despite concerns that it kills endangered turtles and sharks."

No fishery has ever been denied certification after completing the MSC assessment process, and no objection to a certification has ever been upheld.

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