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A Fishstory of MSC in 2012

Toby Middleton, MSC UK Country ManagerBy Toby Middleton, MSC UK Country Manager

2012 was such an iconic year in the UK for so many reasons, plenty of them steeped in national pride, and here at the MSC was no exception. As a market based programme, we’re all about creating momentum and building on the foundations of our previous achievements to continue to build the business case for certified sustainable seafood. To celebrate our progress over the past 12 months, I’ve picked out my own top 10 to show that from simple choices and shopping habits, shoppers and diners really can help sustain seafood for generations to come.

 1 – London 2012 Olympics goes MSC

Olympic rings photo

The London 2012 Olympics set itself the target to be the greenest games ever. And they looked at everything: From construction to transport; from recycling to emissions; and, from biodiversity to food. And the MSC’s little bit? We worked with a dozen caterers across over 30 venues, covering hundreds of meals to ensure there was MSC certified seafood on the menu across the games. As a global showcase of delivering MSC this was our gold medal winner for 2012.

 2 – The Twelve days of fishmas

Peterhead---fishmasAs the year drew to a close we tiptoed up to a handful of partners and clients and, with some trepidation, asked if they minded doing something a bit silly to showcase a busy year at the MSC. To our delight they all said yes. The result is the quite fabulous Twelve days of Fishmas facebook campaign. Well, it made us smile anyway. Merry fishmas.

 3 – Project Inshore

What do you do if you’re a swarthy seadog, braving the rough seas in a tiny boat with all the appetite for certification, but only a skeleton crew for help? In all seriousness, this is exactly the challenge for inshore fisheries that are made up of hundreds of small boats all plying a tough trade, often for many generations. We launched Project Inshore with a number of partners to engage the entire English inshore fishing sector into the MSC process in one go. That’s 2,000 boats, fishing 57 different species in every corner of the isle. One big assessment, lots of little wins!

 4 – Maldives skipjack tuna certification

Maldives Pole-and-Line Skipjack fishermen © MRC, MaldivesIt wasn’t easy, and certainly wasn’t quick, but with perseverance, the Maldivian skipjack tuna fishery achieved MSC certification in November. Despite coming from far across the Indian Ocean, it’s a really important fishery for us tuna loving Brits. In fact it’s our number 1 species. Getting this fishery certified opens up a massive opportunity in 2013 for lots more certified seafood across the UK.

5 – Sainsbury’s reach 100 MSC certified products

MSC certified products were introduced to the UK way back in the early noughties. Keeping going with the MSC ecolabel, as more fisheries get certified, isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. Seafood is sold in cans, on counters, chilled and frozen, from sandwiches to salads. Getting that all aligned is no mean feat. Sainsbury’s milestone of launching their 100th MSC product  (haddock by the way) is the result of hard work and resolve; Rolling up their sleeves for over a decade and getting things done.

 6 – Birds Eye MSC certified fish fingers

Birds Eye fish fingersEvery mum across the country has a few staple favourites tucked away in the freezer for that quick dinner solution when time’s in limited supply, and you need to know the kids will hungrily eat it up. How much more reassuring to know that the fish fingers are from an MSC certified sustainable fishery. So they’ll be plenty of fish fingers for future generations too.

 7 – QR code sushi

How do you keep the MSC innovative and engaging in a restaurant that’s been serving certified dishes for over 4 years? By setting them the unfeasibly difficult challenge of making a QR code out of sushi that links to a website that tells the story of the 10,000 MSC certified seafood meals they’ve cooked. Were Moshi Moshi’s chefs up to the task? Find out for yourself at:

 8 – Fish and Kids hits 4,000 schools

FK-Eden-launchFish and Kids is our flagship schools programme that’s been running since 2006. It includes getting the MSC ecolabel on the menus of primary school canteen across the country, supplemented with sustainable seafood classroom materials and fun cooks packs. With more Local Education Authorities and caterers getting MSC certified, we hit our 4,000th school, serving MSC seafood to approx. 800,000 budding young sustainable seafood chefs, fisherman and fishmongers.

 9 – Consumer research

Every 2 years the MSC goes out to consumers to hear first-hand their views on seafood sustainability and ecolabels. We knew that we’d made a lot of progress increasing labelled products on the supermarket shelf and more recently on restaurant menus, but we were nevertheless delighted to find that over 30% of UK seafood consumers could recognise the MSC ecolabel unprompted. That’s over 50% growth since we last asked them in 2010.

 10 – Social media launch

Midway through the year we launched on social media, without which I wouldn’t blogging here now. We wanted to find new ways to engage with consumers, clients, NGO partners, media and more. Our facebook page and twitter feed have been great ways to showcase the little wins of the programme, the baby steps along the way that advance the certification cause little by little. Keep in touch to find out more.


Traceability in China

Alison Roel, Product Integrity Manager at the MSC

By Alison Roel, MSC Product Integrity Manager

At the end of last year, two of us from the product integrity team at MSC, travelled to Qingdao to deliver training to the Certification Bodies on MSC Chain of Custody certification.

Even today, getting to Qingdao takes some effort and we travelled for a day and a half from London via Singapore. If you get the chance, I really recommend the Chinese film ‘First Time’ which I watched on the plane – really sweet and very different to Hollywood films. Arriving at Singapore beautiful smells of oriental foods greeted us in the lobby but arriving in early evening and heading off at midnight gives you a really surreal sense of time. The next leg to Qingdao was a flight via the Chinese city of Wuhan – the biggest city in central China – a little bigger than London. Travelling with a Chinese airline and stopping on route was a really different experience – especially as we didn’t speak Mandarin! At Wuhan everyone was taken off the airplane and then led through the airport and customs. At one point the official gave instructions in Mandarin dividing the group in two. Fortunately a fellow passenger told us which way to go. So, finally we arrived in Qingdao, a little jet-lagged but ready for a day of meetings ahead of us.

Key country for traceability certification

There are over 200 companies in China trading in MSC products and two certifiers (auditing companies) that audit them to see they are meeting the MSC requirements. The certifiers’ role is essential as they determine if a company can be certified and therefore able to trade in MSC products. To get MSC certified a company has to demonstrate to their certifier that they meet the MSC requirements for traceability, separation, identification and management. With the distance and language barriers, meeting the auditors in person to train them on the certification requirements is crucial.

Many of the auditors we met we’ve already worked really closely with.  Since a colleague went on maternity, earlier in the year, I had taken on responsibility for working with certifiers in China. So over those months – in between investigating issues, responding to queries, and planning for training – I had been in close contact with at least three of the auditors. But of course, calls on Skype in different time zones, or catching up on emails the following day are nothing like meeting the people. Going to China was also a great opportunity to spend time with Edith Lam, who works for ASI and learn about auditing in China.

Although many of the auditors had perfect English, we had a translator with us to make sure everything could be understood by all.  It is quite different working through a translator: you have to be careful to manage your pace, something I took a while getting used to!

During the 2 day training not only could we provide auditors with clarity on certain requirements and answer specific questions; but also we learnt from them about how businesses operate in China so that we’re in a better position to develop MSC requirements in relation to this.

Traceability on the ground

We spent the week in Qingdao carrying out the training and attending some audits to see the MSC requirements really be put to practice.  It was very interesting to see the processing at the factories in China. Each factory consisted of several blocks; workshops, cold storage, offices. One of the factories had a dormitory block and another had plots of land for workers to grow things. Like most fish processing plants, all the facilities handling the fish were kept cold, to preserve the fish, so, like the workers, we wrapped ourselves up to keep warm.

Qingdao is a fast growing city – already half the size of Wuhan – and was home to the Olympic Sailing in 2008. Qingdao being a coastal city we ate some amazing local seafood and soon learnt that portions in China are not intended to be finished! Having learn an incredible amount on this trip and provided auditors with answers to many of their questions we were also aware of how much more support we could give, particularly as the number of companies handling MSC products in China continues to grow. With this in mind, we’ll soon be opening MSC office in China and I will be visiting again in March, this time with my colleague Ben to give more training. More updates then… AR

Find out more about MSC traceability.

An environmentally sustainable future for English fisheries

Matt Watson MSCBy Matt Watson, MSC English Fisheries Outreach Officer

On a trip I made to the Isles of Scilly, the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and fishermen were discussing the best management measure for one of their shellfish species. Would the fishery benefit from having a closed season or would a maximum landing size be better? Both options have the potential to limit the impact of fishing on the mature shellfish population but which is best for the fishery?

I’m working on a Seafish project called Project Inshore, which aims to help resolve questions like these. The idea is simple: by ensuring the best available science, fisheries data and fishermen’s advice are readily available; Project Inshore will help in advising management on the really difficult questions they often face.

Mevagissey harbour by Matt Watson, MSCThese are often the questions that are most important to the small boats that make up the inshore fleet. Here you’re thinking of the 2,000 small day-boats that make up nearly three quarters of the total English fishing fleet.

So what is Project Inshore doing?

The idea is that, together with a wide range of stakeholders, Project Inshore will bring the environmental sustainability of inshore fisheries to the forefront of discussions. It will also address some of the trade barriers for local fisheries that make it difficult for them to get a good price for their fish.

Food Certification International, an independent auditor, will map and audit all of English inshore fisheries. The audits will be based on the MSC Three Principles and will be based on the MSC’s ‘pre-assessment’ process:

  1. How healthy is the fish stock?
  2. Environmental impacts of fishing – including impacts on other species
  3. Effective management. Is it working?

By assessing all English fisheries against the same criteria, Project Inshore links into wider conservation and management frameworks: the project will draw on ongoing work and its outputs will be used to inform inshore fishery management reform and in guiding the designation and management of Marine Protected Areas.

The idea is not to overburden the inshore industry with multiple layers of management but instead (and where necessary), to manage fisheries more efficiently working with the best tools available.

The first stage – mapping the inshore fisheries for the first time – is already complete and soon we’ll be finding out more about the management challenges, and some of the fantastic examples of best practice in our inshore fleet.

Although Project Inshore won’t lead directly to MSC certification, for those fisheries that indicate a desire – and ability – to get MSC certified, Project Inshore will be the first step on the ladder towards MSC assessment. To find out more, visit: