Herring in the net: the MSC seal is supposed to ensure that the fish have been caught sustainably. Photo: dpa
Although the MSC seal gives rise to criticism, Stiftung Warentest nevertheless considers the label to be useful.
Stuttgart – Many conservationists are likely to agree with Stiftung Warentest’s statement: "It’s good that the MSC exists."This abbreviation stands for the London-based non-profit organization Marine Stewardship Council. It launched in 1997 to make the world’s fish harvest more sustainable. The MSC awards the now widely known blue seal, which stands for certified sustainable fisheries.
As Stiftung Warentest reports, the logo can now be found in Germany on "around 3300 wild-caught products: from Alaska pollock to pikeperch, from oysters to clams, from Arctic Sea shrimp to lobster". In total, twelve percent of the world’s fish catch is now certified, reports the MSC. The organization sees this as a "success story," but also acknowledges that it is still far from "leaving a tangible footprint on a global scale."
But how good is the MSC seal really?? The product testers took a closer look at it in the current April issue of "Test" magazine. One reason for this may have been that the MSC has recently come under heavy criticism. In January, more than 60 international environmental and marine protection organizations and experts wrote a joint letter to the MSC expressing "significant and growing concerns" about the organization’s certification process and calling for stricter rules to be established quickly. Among the senders are organizations such as Greenpeace and the German Marine Conservation Foundation.
Even the product testers were not "completely convinced" by the MSC’s approach in their most recent review. For example, the testers write, "While fishing operations must provide a great deal of evidence to earn the seal. However, it is often enough for them to comply with existing laws to protect fish stocks."The check on the traceability of certified goods was also disappointing: "Here the MSC promises more than it actually delivered in the sample," was the verdict.
Üously fished stocks
Nevertheless, it is important that this organization strives for sustainable fisheries. "In many marine regions, fishing is partly unregulated – for example in the Mediterranean, where 93 percent of all stocks are currently considered overfished," writes Stiftung Warentest. However, in 2017, some of the riparian states agreed on common rules. While the EU wants fish stocks in European fishing grounds to be at a level that allows sustainable fishing by 2020. But there is a lack of controls on vessels at sea or in port: In the North Sea, they affected just two percent in 2016, according to Warentest. MSC-certified operations, on the other hand, must undergo annual inspections. In 2015, 17 out of 290 licensed fishing companies failed the test.
In their letter to the MSC in January, the signatories criticized the organization for certifying controversial fishing operations as sustainable in recent years, despite catching "thousands of vulnerable and endangered animals". There are also complaints about unsustainable fishing methods such as the irreversible destruction of sensitive biotopes on the seabed by MSC-certified companies.
Better preventive care required
Problematically, the MSC’s rules explicitly allow overfishing, as Stiftung Warentest notes. In this context, the environmental organization Greenpeace points out that at least five stocks were fished beyond safe biological limits in 2015 – and the fish caught still received the seal. This included pollock from the North Sea and sea bass. "Here the MSC could introduce a stronger precautionary principle – it has the market power to do so," say the testers.
In their opinion, a safety buffer would make sense especially in the case of rather uncertain data on the actual sizes of fish stocks – as is the case with herring, for example – but: "The MSC refrains from." After all, the specifications for certified farms follow both the legal catch quotas and the recommendations of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a network of experts from 20 countries.
Recommendation for MSC seal
With all criticism, which hits the MSC at present strengthened, also the commodity testers note expressly: "Other seals with high market importance for game fish do not exist. We recommend therefore to prefer products with MSC seal." And there are also decidedly positive examples. Thus six salmon products of the fishing association Alaska Salmon, which the testers had examined, fulfill the MSC requirements "on high level". One important reason for this is also that Alaska’s constitution protects wild salmon, so there is a good conservation program there. Russian wild salmon are also protected by law. Fishing companies there "meet most MSC requirements well," writes Stiftung Warentest. However, they would have to partly still improve, otherwise threatened sanctions.
As a conclusion remains that one should pay attention with the purchase of fish products to the blue MSC seal. In addition, it would be good to consider the advice of environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, which calls for greater appreciation of fish products. One should not consider this food -similar to meat- as an everyday dish, but rather as a delicacy. In addition, Greenpeace’s fish guide says that you can only eat carp with a completely ecologically clean conscience – not other fish species, or only if you pay attention to exceptions.