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Shetland scallops: how a dredge fishery got MSC certified

Claire Pescod MSC - MSC fisheries outreach manager, UKBy Claire Pescod, MSC UK Fisheries Outreach Manager

One of the things we get asked a lot is “How did a dredge fishery get MSC certified?” It’s a reasonable question. Dredgers don’t have the best reputation with environmentalists and, in my heart, I count myself as an environmentalist and I think this certification is great news. So what gives Shetland the edge?

I’m often heard talking about Shetland’s strong history of spatial planning, closed areas, fishermen’s input, links to good science and the fact the they have a regulated fishery, all of which contribute to their achievement of MSC certification.  While the achievement of MSC certification is down to a combination of a number of things this blog is a chance for me to go into a little more detail, to help explain a little more about what sets this fishery apart from some others.

A strong history of spatial planning and fishermen’s input

Shetland was part of a Scottish Government trial on Marine Spatial Planning which looked at all activities, habitats, features and interactions in Shetland’s marine area and mapped them all.  The result is a really good understanding of what is out there and where everything happens which can then inform decisions on where certain activities – such as scallop dredging – should and shouldn’t be taking place.  During the process Shetland fishermen worked with the pilot providing data and information and even voluntarily closed areas to fishing to protect sensitive marine habitats like horse mussel beds.  The result was a culture of closed areas and fishermen’s involvement.

Links to good science

Shetland have good links to science through close working and collaboration with NAFC Marine Centre which has resulted in the availability of comprehensive data sets stretching back many years which were used to inform the MSC assessment. They also make for strong foundations for management decisions.

A regulated fishery

MSC certified Shetland scallops

MSC certified Shetland scallops

Probably key to pulling everything together – Shetland fisheries are controlled through a ‘Regulating Order’. This is a piece of law under the 1967 Seafisheries Act that means that they are able to control exactly who comes into the fishery and can control fishing effort, limit where people fish and even close a fishery if thought necessary. And what has brought all these together is partnership and collaboration in an Island community that understands the need for sustainability for future generations.

Detail, detail, detail…

One thing I find interesting is that when SSMO entered the dredge scallop fishery into assessment, they also entered their lobsters. A lot of people assumed that, as it is a small scale, shellfish fishery using creels (or pots) that it would get through the assessment relatively easily.  But that was not to be.  The lobster fishery failed to meet the MSC standard (on stock information) and was not certified, while at the same time the dredged scallop fishery was certified. For me, that was an important reminder that we can’t just look at one aspect of a fishery like gear type or scale and make an assumption.  I think the beauty of the MSC programme is that it looks at every fishery individually and every fishery is assessed against the same, globally recognised standard where a fishery’s own merits and issues are examined.

Shetland fishermen still hope to gain MSC certification for their lobster fishery and are working on the issues that were flagged up in the assessment process. For me, and many others at MSC, this highlights one of MSC’s strengths, being a driver for change in an industry that has woken up to the need for a sustainable future.

Shetland has set a great example of best practice and is one of those leading the way in UK fisheries.  In theory, there is no reason why other scallop dredge fisheries with similar controls, spatial management and protection of delicate areas shouldn’t follow in their footsteps.

That’s one of the best things about the Shetland dredge fishery getting certified. They’ve shown other scallop dredge fisheries what they’ll need to do in order to become a sustainable and well managed fishery and pass an MSC assessment. This may not be easy, they’ll likely have to make a number of changes and I certainly can’t promise that they will pass. But, if they follow the Shetland example, there is no reason that with some hard work other scallop dredgers shouldn’t, one day, be certified as sustainable. CP


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:

Learning from the experts in South Sinai

By Christopher Poonian, PhD student at Nottingham University and recipient of an MSC scholarship

The warm, blue waters of the serene Egyptian Red Sea surrounding the South Sinai Peninsula are world-renowned as one of the world’s hotspots of marine biodiversity. Endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and cetaceans depend on this unique environment for their survival. The area’s astounding coral reefs are home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 40 species of star fish, 25 species of sea urchins, more than a 100 species of mollusks and 150 species of crustaceans. South Sinai is also of considerable socioeconomic importance, for the Bedouin people who rely on the area’s rich marine resources for their daily protein and for the nationally-significant revenue generated from millions of international tourists who flock to the region for its world-class scuba diving and wilderness desert treks. These contrasting socioeconomic and human needs must now be carefully balanced with the sustainable management of the regions national resources, and now is a prime opportunity to develop such initiatives, following the recent popular revolution in Egypt.

My PhD, supported by the MSC, focusses on the traditional management of coral reef fisheries by the Bedouin tribes of South Sinai. Over the last few months, I have been completing initial stages of my fieldwork, based Coral reef, Dahabin the town of Dahab. Much of my time has been spent developing the trust of a number of expert Bedouin fishermen and women. The first objective of my work is to actually identify the Bedouin Arabic terms used to describe specific species, fishing gears and grounds. This has proved more complicated than expected, because of limited literacy, the nuances of the Bedouin dialect and my, still embarrassingly basic, Arabic skills! Later on I will be gathering detailed information on tribal codes related to fishing practices. In the field, I will talk to local fishers, conduct surveys of fishing effort and snorkel and scuba dive fishing sites to evaluate the in situ ecological effects of Bedouin traditional management.

Many Bedu are suspicious of state authority because they take great pride in self-governance following tribal laws and codes of conduct. On the whole, this approach has worked well for them and has persisted since pre-Islamic times. Through my research, I hope to capitalize on the strengths of this tribal code to open dialogue between state enforced Marine Protected Area management bodies and the local Bedouin coastal peoples. I feel that the Bedu have a huge wealth of knowledge that can teach us how to better manage fisheries, both in the definition of locally-acceptable regulations and the successful enforcement of these measures. As traditional Bedouin culture fades, and young people choose a more sedentary, material way of living, there is a danger that this valuable information could be lost forever if not documented. CP

What’s happening in PNA tuna?

James SimpsonBy James Simpson, MSC UK Communications Manager

Last week, the Dutch tuna canner, Anova, wrote an open letter to the PNA tuna fishery expressing its support for the MSC certified component that it hopes to source from and asking “What’s taking so long?” It’s a question we’ve heard a couple of times in the industry and thought a brief explanation of what’s happening might be useful.

PNA tuna, the PNA western Pacific skipjack free-school set purse seine tuna fishery, was MSC certified in December 2012. The important bit in that rather long name is the ‘free-school’ component. Among the boats fishing in the PNA waters, they fish without FADs when they can, but sometimes fish around FADs. Only the free school component is MSC certified. That leads to a challenge for traceability: clearly companies – like Anova – want to source from the MSC certified, free school component but the fish end up on the same boat and there is no way to tell them apart without cast-iron traceability in place. That’s what’s being trialled at the moment and the slow pace of progress is what is frustrating Anova.

MSC’s ‘Tuna guy’, Bill Holden explains: “Before the process could be trialled in the lead up to an audit and Chain of Custody certification, the PNA Office has invested in the training of observers and fishing crews so that free school sets are properly identified from the start.  These observers are also critical to ensure that the MSC certified skipjack remains separated from other skipjack on-board and traceable up to the point where the fish are unloaded.  And if this tuna is transhipped on fish carriers, this also must be kept separate, traceable and verifiable to comply with the CoC certification.”

Why don’t you ban FADs?

Some people will ask: “Why doesn’t the MSC just ban the FAD fishing?” and the answer is nearly as simple as the question: it isn’t within the MSC’s power or remit to define how a fishery fishes. What we can do is help identify the most sustainable options – in this case the free school component – and, through MSC certification recognise and reward that sustainable fishing. By creating an additional benefit to the free school component, MSC can create an additional market demand for the MSC certified, free school tuna that will encourage customers to preference it in their buying. This in turn should encourage the fishing fleets to increase the amount of free school sets vs FAD sets.

So what’s happening in the fishery? The trials that have been underway for the past few months are aimed at finding a way to demonstrate to the auditors that the free school fish will be kept separate from the FAD-caught fish. Until the auditors are convinced, the PNA fishery won’t be able to attain Chain of Custody certification and claim its MSC label for the certified fish. The good news is that the PNA fishery expects to have its traceability system audited and approved soon. With so much demand from the market, that should mean that we don’t have much longer to wait. JS

What the Olympics did for the oceans

By Jess Telsnig. Durham University

As the autumn descends on London, it feels like an age since the Olympics finished. Yet, in the foodservice arena, their effects are still being felt and an event in the last week looks set to be one of the best examples yet of the London Olympics bringing about change in the foodservice sector: The first catering supplier to get certified because they were inspired by the Olympics.

The enduring theme throughout the build-up to London 2012 was ‘Legacy’ and seafood sourcing was hailed as one of the great contenders for legacy gold. With around 14 million meals served throughout the Games, organisers of London 2012 (LOCOG) had been working hard to create ‘the greenest Games yet’ through (in part) the London 2012 Food Vision. For seafood, this stipulated that caterers must only use demonstratably sustainably sourced fish, including MSC certified fish wherever possible.

LOCOG also decided to display the MSC ecolabel on menu boards throughout the Games – something that proved very popular! This is particulary important because, according to MSC research, two thirds of people are concerned about falling fish stocks but often they are confused about which fish are sustainable.  Having the MSC ecolabel on menus acheived two things:
– Firstly for caterers and suppliers it showed that it is possible to source sustainable fish for large scale events.
– Secondly, it demonstrated to the millions of Games fans that they can choose to eat sustainably when they eat out as well as buying packaged products.

So, what about that catering supplier? Simsons Fisheries Sustainability Advisor, Philippa Raven, made it clear: “We chose to get Marine Stewardship Council certification as – following the London 2012 Olympics – we wanted to offer certified sustainable fish to a wide range of our customers.” That’s exactly the sort of commitment that LOCOG and their (many) stakeholders in the NGO community were hoping for as a food legacy. Established in the 1970s, Simsons supply fish all over London and the South East (they even do retail deliveries so you can order at home). That will open up the chance to buy MSC certified fish to all of their customers.

Looking further afield, there are encouraging signs that the seeds planted by the Food Vision are continuing to grow, The Food Legacy Programme, was established to help caterers realise the Food Vision, and it asked businesses across the UK to commit to using sustainably sourced food. A broad cross-section of contract cateres, LEAs and restaurants have already signed up to the Food Legacy and the Sustainable Fish City Pledge. As a result, many of them are now looking at MSC certification or – in some cases – already MSC certified.

With London’s Food Legacy begining to make itself felt, there’s one important question remaining: Can Rio do even better? JT

Consumers aware, but do they care?

Toby Middleton, MSC UK Country Manager

So which came first; the fish or the egg? Are consumers driving sustainable seafood or are businesses choice editing? It’s the perennial question we face when we publish the results of our global consumer survey.  On the one hand, consumer awareness and understanding of the MSC ecolabel are up. On the other, so is the number of products adorned with that little blue fish tick.

Looking at the detail

Delve a little deeper into the figures and there are some interesting, and telling trends. Sure the 31% of consumers who recognise the ecolabel grabs the attention and steals the headlines, however, beneath this are 8% of shoppers who can accurately describe the ecolabel as a mark of certified or sustainable seafood. That 8% figure is actually quite an elegant beastie, as it correlates almost exactly to the proportion of wild capture seafood products on sale today that bear the logo. Well, there you are. Case closed you might say. 8% of products bear the logo, 8% of the public know what it means. But this correlation leaves an important question: which side of this equation is in the driving seat?

This is why we go beyond those top-line figures to get a more meaningful understanding of consumer behaviour. We know how easy it is for shoppers to state a preference for sustainable seafood, but how often is that translated into action? Here the picture becomes somewhat more nuanced; the arguments subtler. This is where we need to challenge our own assumptions and test our predispositions.

Analysing consumer behaviour

We start by asking the overarching questions, such as ‘Do you think fish stocks are falling?’ and ‘Are stocks at critically low levels?’ But then we go back and ask the same in reverse: ‘Is it all just scaremongering?’ and ‘Have you even heard any concerns about fish stocks?’ Our intent here is to understand how much seafood and sustainability are in the public domain. Is it an issue that consumers are thinking about? Comparing year-on-year responses, our research clearly shows the answer is a resounding ‘Yes. 60% of shoppers rate seafood sustainability as a credible, serious issue. Unsurprising, given several high-profile TV and media campaigns over the past year.

Turning thought into action

But what does that mean at the tills? Moreover, how do they make that choice when reaching for the supermarket shelf and ensure it’s informed? Here, again, we try to find out whether consumers think their individual choices will make a difference. In terms of the drivers that influence purchasing decisions, even we were surprised (albeit pleasantly) with the level of trust shoppers place in ecolabels. Over 55% of consumers rank ecolabels right up there with friends and family as the preferred on-pack, independent and credible mark of sustainability.

As for hard evidence of the impact all this good intent is having, sales of MSC labelled products over the last two financial years have nigh-on doubled. That’s £275 million up from £141 million. In anyone’s books, that is a lot of certified seafood.

Certainly, shoppers are still purchasing their staple favourites as before. But you have to think, if you were designing a corporate sustainable seafood sourcing strategy, thinking about packaging or the position of your brand, the business case is increasingly compelling.

The fish and the egg

Clearly the retailers, brands and restaurateurs are proactively choosing to apply the logo to their products and menus but our research shows the driver for this behaviour is the continued appetite consumers are showing for their seafood to be sustainable and credibly proven as such. The use of the MSC ecolabel against this backdrop is based on a response to shopper and diner demand.

This doesn’t mean champagne all-round at MSC headquarters.? Not a bit of it. MSC is just the standard setter. The people really making the change and transforming the market are the fisheries, suppliers, processors, retailers, brands and foodservice businesses in all their shapes and sizes that are looking to certification as a voluntary market based means to deliver sustainable seafood to their customers. The good news is that those customers really do still care. TM

Getting started

For a while now, our partners have been asking us, “When is the MSC getting on twitter?” As you’ve probably already seen, we’re now there @mscintheuk. There’s a link on our blog homepage if you’d like to follow us and you can even see some of our recent tweets to get a taste of what we’re saying.

But fishery science is a delicate and complex thing and, sometimes, that just won’t fit into 140 characters. That’s where this blog comes in. Here, we’ll delve deeper into the science, the fisheries and the people in the MSC programme. Most of the posts will be written by MSC staff, but a few will be by our guests and partners. If you’d like to contribute, get in touch!