In the United States, many retailers and consumers are familiar with the EcoFish label, a certification that seafood at the marketplace has met the sustainable fishing guidelines created by the Marine Stewardship Council. But now, the United Nations is getting into the swim of things.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization—specifically, the FAO's Committee of Fisheries—issued a set of guidelines to promote responsible fishing and subsequent ecolabeling worldwide. The voluntary guidelines are not meant to create trade obstacles or to supersede such existing labels as EcoFish.
Fisheries would have to meet requirements for their management systems, their fish stock and ecosystem considerations. For example, to be certified, stock must not be overfished, and its availability must be maintained for future generations. It must also conserve the biodiversity of aquatic habitats and ecosystems, and minimize the impact on threatened or endangered species. To receive the ecolabel, both the fishery and the product's entire chain of custody must be certified.
"I think it's a really positive step that there's this international norm that's being introduced," said Urvashi Rangan, director for the ecolabeling project at Consumers' Union. She was concerned, however, that the guidelines may be too vague. "Those are very broad strokes. What is 'overfished'? What is the benchmark for that? What is 'biodiversity'? What's the benchmark for that?" Rangan added that a good next step would be to include guidance about mercury and PCBs. Still, she applauded the FAO for attempting to address long-standing issues, even if it results in some initial consumer confusion. "Whenever we start to institute these nationwide guidelines we need to educate people about [them]. They may be confused; that doesn't mean it's not a good idea."
The FAO acknowledged that poorer countries may face greater difficulty in transitioning their fisheries to a sustainable model. "Relevant intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and financial institutions should provide developing countries and countries in transition with financial and technical assistance—that will allow them to participate in such schemes," the draft urges.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 5/p. 12