New Hope for Marine Fisheries
12 / 1997
Two global organisations recently forged a partnership to create the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the worlds largest private, non-profit conservation organisation, seeks a new approach to ensure more effective management of marine fisheries. Anglo-Dutch Unilever, a major buyer of frozen fish and manufacturer of frozen-fish products, is committed to long-term fish stock sustainability to ensure a future for its successful fish business. Different motivations, but a shared objective: to ensure the long-term viability of global fish populations and the health of the marine ecosystems on which they depend.This partnership comes up in response to the crisis facing world fisheries today. Worldwide consumer demand for fish is steadily rising, but scientists warn that fish populations and marine ecosystems are in serious trouble. The FAO reports that 70 per cent of the world’s commercially important marine fish stocks are either fully fished, overexploited, depleted or slowly recovering. Nearly everywhere, fisheries that have sustained coastal communities for generations have suffered catastrophic declines. In some areas, excessive fishing has driven staple species, such as Atlantic cod, commercially extinct. Modern fisheries are both heavily subsidised and enormously destructive. Worldwide, governments pay US$ 54 billion per year in fisheries subsidies to an industry that catches only US$ 70 billion worth of fish. Sophisticated vessels able to stay at sea for months seek fish farther and farther afield, often in the waters of developing countries, where they compete with local fishers. Contemporary fishing practices kill and waste an average of 27 million tonnes of fish, sea birds, sea turtles, marine mammals and other ocean life annually-fully a third of the global catch. Fishery managers and governments have typically been unable to prevent the `mining’ of fishery resources. WWF and Unilever aim to establish, through consultation, an independent Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)which will create market-led economic incentives for sustainable fishing. The organisation will establish a broad set of principles for sustainable fishing and set standards for individual fisheries. Only fisheries meeting these standards will be eligible for certification by independent accredited certifying firms. Seafood companies will be encouraged to join sustainable buyers’ groups and make commitments to purchase fish products only from certified sources. Ultimately, products from MSC-certified fisheries will be marked with an on-pack logo to allow seafood consumers to select fish products that come from sustainable, well-managed sources.Past experience suggests that harnessing market forces in favour of conservation can be very powerful. One thing is certain - where industry and the market lead, governments will likely follow.Members of the MSC team will consult with a broad range of experts representing all stakeholders in marine fisheries and will draft the broad set of principles for sustainable fishing that will form the underpinning of the MSC. The team will draw on the standards and guidelines embodied in existing international agreements, such as the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing and the UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. In addition, the team will enlist new information and expertise in the fields of marine conservation biology, economics, seafood marketing, and commercial viability. WWF and Unilever will circulate the results of this exercise and draft principles to all stakeholders in fisheries: conservationists, fishers, seafood industry officials, fishery managers, lawmakers, etc. A series of national and regional consultations and workshops around the world will then be sponsored to refine and strengthen the principles and develop a process for international implementation. The MSC has the potential to significantly alter fishing practices in favour of more sustainable, less destructive fisheries. When Unilever and other major seafood companies make commitments to buy their fish products only from well-managed and MSC-certified fisheries, the fishing industry will be compelled to modify its current practices. Governments, laws and treaties aside, the market itself will begin to determine the means of fish production.
There is no doubt that world fisheries are in crisis today. There is also little doubt that efforts need to be undertaken by all stakeholders in the fishery to ensure a sustainable fishery. To that extent the initiative taken by WWF and Unilever to harness market forces to achieve conservation objectives, is indeed laudable. In theory, fishworkers, especially artisanal fishworkers in Southern countries, should actually support this initiative, since they have for long been protesting the spread of industrial fishery and destructive fishing technology. However, it is important to question some of the fundamentals of this initiative. It is important to ask questions such as: Who will control the initiative? Will fishworkers be able to influence the working of the MSC, given the clout wielded by environmental organisations and multinational corporations? Will the MSC initiative be accountable, in any way, to fishworkers? Will the MSC be concerned primarily with biological issues, or will social issues affecting fishworkers be taken into consideration? Will artisanal fishworkers benefit in any way from the MSC, or will most of the benefits flow to corporate houses and consumers of the North? Will it be possible to develop principles taking into account the specificities of different fisheries? There are innumerable such questions which need to be asked and answered. Only then will there be any clarity on whether the MSC will be of benefit to fish and to fishworkers.
Artículos y dossiers
SUTTON, Michaël, New hope for marine fisheries in. Samudra Report, 1996/07, 15