Eco-Certifications & Benchmarking

Eco-certifications

Over the last two decades, sustainable seafood certification and labelling programs have been on the rise as a tool to tackle the depletion of the world’s fish stocks and address the impacts of fishing and aquaculture on the marine environment.

Eco-certifications seek to increase the demand for sustainable seafood and, in turn, create market incentives to improve fisheries and aquaculture practices. These market efforts are now big business. The global retail value of eco-certified seafood was estimated to be worth US $11.5 billion in 2015.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the most prominent global certification program for wild fisheries, has been in Canada for a decade. Over two-thirds of the country’s fisheries’ landings are now certified to carry the eco-label. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is a newer, complementary aquaculture certification program that has been in Canada for two years and has certified a growing number of salmon farms.

SeaChoice and our member organizations have been stakeholders in Canadian seafood certifications for over a decade, participating in 74 per cent of all MSC certifications and 88 per cent of ASC certifications. Our organisations have also participated in both programs’ Standard Advisory Committees and contributes to their Standard development consultations.

In September 2017, SeaChoice released the first review of all Canadian MSC and ASC certifications which examines if and how they are contributing to improving the environmental sustainability of Canadian fisheries and aquaculture practices. Detailed information on the review is available here.

Benchmarking

Starting in 2012, a benchmarking study was conducted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. This study identified which standards match up to the sustainability criteria used in Seafood Watch rankings. Through benchmarking, Seafood Watch intends to defer to certifications which meet, at a minimum, a yellow or “Good Alternatives” ranking. Detailed information on the benchmarking study is available here.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recently reviewed the Aquaculture Stewardship Certification’s (ASC) Salmon Standard and released its decision, equating ASC salmon certification to a yellow or “Good Alternative” ranking. This would appear to mean that salmon farmed on ASC-certified Canadian farms merits the yellow ranking—except that Canadian farms certified by ASC don’t actually meet the criteria benchmarked by Seafood Watch.

The benchmarking exercise looked exclusively at the Salmon Standard as written and did not review its practical application. In Canada and elsewhere in the world, ASC has approved Variance Requests that substantially alter the Salmon Standard in practice. For example, none of the farms certified in British Columbia and operating in 2016 met the Standard’s criterion for sea louse control; and in Chile and Norway, chemical and therapeutant use far exceeds prescribed limits. In Australia, procedures for benthic monitoring have been varied in favour of local regulations.

In other words, the ASC’s practice of varying from its written criteria has enabled farms to become certified that do not meet the paper standard that has been benchmarked to a Seafood Watch “yellow”. SeaChoice accordingly does not consider Canadian farmed salmon to merit a yellow ranking. For more information see our media release.

ASC certifies a number of different aquaculture products worldwide and adopts the practice of allowing variances to its criteria for those species as well. SeaChoice suggests caution on the part of consumers and retailers seeking sustainable seafood when dealing with product that has attained a Seafood Watch “yellow” ranking through benchmarking.

A credible eco-certification:

  • Is transparent about who is involved in the certification process and what process will be used from start to finish. Provides updates on progress and challenges
  • Is multi-stakeholder, including a diverse and balanced group of representatives from the seafood industry, science, non-governmental sectors, and the local community
  • Is based on scientific evidence and is independent
  • Has a process for on-going improvement, with periodic reviews to address new scientific findings 
  • Is verified by a third-party, avoiding the potential conflict of interest of having the standards owner also certify the standards
  • Monitors and evaluates progress to determine eligibility for re-certification
  • Addresses key environmental impacts based on independent science

Further information: