Kurtis Hayne
Commercial and Fisheries Manager, Canada West - Marine Stewardship Council
Part of the Spotlight on Canada’s Fisheries Industry

Consumers' Power Increasing Fisheries' Sustainability and Certification

Takeaways

  1. An investment in data and science is essential to sustainably growing the fisheries industry in Canada. Scientific data is essential to making important management decisions among fisheries.
  2. Canadian consumers are concerned that seafood that is harvested in a sustainable way and are increasingly voting with their wallets. Canadian fisheries need to uphold the standards of sustainability to meet a growing demand and ensure the viability of their business.
  3. Canada has a strong international reputation as a sustainable fisheries market. We can encourage developing countries to follow our lead in creating a more sustainable international fisheries industry and marketplace.

Action

Successful use of Canada’s marine fisheries needs to be underlined by strong data and knowledge collection. We must continue to increase investment in primary science in order to manage our fisheries in a sustainable way. This will ensure profitability from our marine fisheries and resources, and help us realize a sustained return from our oceans.


How do Canadian fisheries compare globally in sustainable fisheries management? What are the forces affecting both the Canadian and global fisheries industry? 

From a global perspective, Canadian fisheries are relatively sustainable. By volume, about 66% of all Canadian wild-capture fisheries are engaged with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), compared to almost 16% of fisheries worldwide—these numbers alone speak to the strong performance of Canadian fisheries in a global context. These certified Canadian fisheries have healthy stocks, consider wider ecosystem impacts like bycatch or habitat damage, and have effective management in place—fulfilling the three principles of the MSC fisheries standard.

“83% of seafood consumers in Canada agreed that seafood must be protected for future generations, and 70% said that a brands’ claims about sustainability need to be verified by an independent organization.”

A current trend is consumers expecting seafood to be harvested in a sustainable way. In a 2018 GlobeScan survey 83% of seafood consumers in Canada agreed that seafood must be protected for future generations, and 70% said that a brands’ claims about sustainability need to be verified by an independent organization.At the same time a majority of consumers reported wanting to hear more from companies about the sustainability of their products. This is indicative of the growing need for supply chain verification of the sustainability of seafood, its provenance and legality, and clear communication about how these attributes are verified. MSC certified Canadian fisheries are relatively well placed to respond to that demand. However in the case of fisheries, this is largely driven by stricter requirements in foreign markets since 70% of Canadian seafood products are exported. There is much more work to be done by the supply chain in Canada to help consumers here meet the growing need for verified sustainable options.

Another major trend is the growing importance of worldwide food security, especially in the face of climate change, since billions of people around the world rely on seafood as their main source of protein. 

Fisheries in Canada that have been certified to the MSC Standard demonstrate that they are contributing to worldwide food security, as well as the sustainable livelihoods of coastal communities. The MSC-certified Canadian fisheries are in a unique position to respond to some of the ongoing trends that we are seeing in seafood.


What are the practices that qualify a fishery as sustainable and how must they be verified? What outside factors are forcing standards to evolve?

Fishery standards are complex. The MSC program is built on 20 years of collaboration with fishery scientists, the fishing industry and conservation communities. In its current form, it reflects the most up-to-date understanding of internationally-accepted science and best practice management for fisheries.

Fisheries that come into our program are audited against 28 performance indicators that are split between three principles: sustainable fish stocks, minimal environmental impact and effective management. For a fishery to become certified, they must meet a level of global best practices for each principle.

“The impact of climate change is going to be profound for our marine environments and fisheries. There will be large changes that happen on an ecosystem-wide basis, and fisheries will need to respond.”

In terms of the process, once a fishery becomes certified, it undergoes annual audits by a third party certifier. Many fisheries are required to deliver even more improvements, and undergo a full assessment every five years. The entire process is designed to be transparent and provides external stakeholders the opportunity for input. It is also peer-reviewed by scientific experts. This incentivizes fisheries to deliver continuous improvements and maintain healthy levels of fish stocks. We can see positive changes in practices in real time in most certified fisheries.

Climate change is the single largest factor currently affecting our Fisheries Standard. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released a report speaking to some of the effects of climate change on oceans and fisheries. The impact of climate change is going to be profound for our marine environments and fisheries. There will be large changes that happen on an ecosystem-wide basis, and fisheries will need to respond.Sustainably managed fisheries are more resilient in the face of climate change. It is now imperative to start considering the realities of climate change in conversations on global food security.


What would you say Canada needs most in order to sustainably grow our fishing industry?

Growth and the sustainable utilization of our fishery resources depends upon good data. We need scientific data on the health of fish stocks to make important management decisions. The most integral aspect of managing our fisheries into the future is generating support for knowledge and data collection of fisheries worldwide.

We also need increased investment in primary science to manage our fisheries. Any investment in ocean resources has to have sustainability as its bottom line. This will ensure long-term viability and profitability because our marine fisheries and resources will pay dividends by realizing return from our renewable oceans.This, in turn, will help Canadian marine ecosystems prosper into the future while also helping coastal communities. 

“The most integral aspect of managing our fisheries into the future is generating support for knowledge and data collection of fisheries worldwide.”

However, changes in our global marine ecosystems will inherently affect Canada. For example, we are seeing changes in fish migration patterns in Canadian waters and elsewhere, and we’re not sure how this and other ecosystem changes may affect the ability to grow and maintain Canadian fisheries. In some cases fisheries could be sustainably grown over time; some stocks in Canadian waters could be rebuilt and others maintained at sustainable levels. In any case fisheries need to be informed by good science in order to rebuild or maintain productive levels of output. If all Canadian fisheries were to be able to meet the high bar of the MSC standard it would take a similar investment in all fisheries that we have seen in those that have achieved certification. 

Ultimately, we hope that the future will see more credible third-party verified sustainable fisheries, which will help broaden environmentally-sound practices, and also give consumers more confidence about the seafood produced in Canada.


Is Canada’s brand strong internationally in fisheries, and if so, what can other countries learn from Canada’s example? 

Canada’s international fishing and seafood brand is very strong for many reasons. Firstly, in many markets we are seen as having clean, pristine waters. Second, we have strong safety regulations. And third, we have strong sustainability performance in our fisheries. 

When we look at some export markets that Canadian seafood is entering—like the European Union and the United States—their markets have strong sustainability expectations and standards. So we are well equipped to enter those markets. 

Developing world fisheries can certainly learn from Canada’s example. We need to get the message about the urgency to transform sustainability out to these economies since about 50% of the seafood worldwide is from the developing world. So something Canadians—whether consumers, retailers, supply chains, the fishing industry—should work on is how to successfully communicate to those developing world fisheries that sustainability is important. This is something that needs to be figured out if we are going to be successful in achieving the goal of a healthy ocean environment and worldwide fishery industry. So, the biggest aid Canada can provide is to help incentivize the need for improved science and data in sustainable fisheries management in developing world fisheries because they are such a big piece of the global ocean’s health.


How can retailers and consumers ensure that Canada’s fisheries industry remains sustainable? 

The underlying factor in the MSC program and our theory of change is that it relies on consumers to demand and make the choice of sustainable, traceable and third-party verified seafood. That is really what powers our program. 

“Consumers are awakening to the power they posses by using their supply chain leverage for good and they are rewarding companies that are living up to their expectations in terms of values and sustainability.”

Consumers are awakening to the power they posses by using their supply chain leverage for good and they are rewarding companies that are living up to their expectations in terms of values and sustainability.That is why we have the MSC blue fish logo; so it’s easier for consumers to find sustainable seafood on grocery  shelves and on menus.

From a retail perspective, I think a few retailers have done a pretty good job at beginning to respond to some of those consumer demands, and in some cases use their supply chain leverage to transform fisheries worldwide in a measurable way.

This supply chain leverage and commitment by retailers must continue to grow if we are going to be successful in transforming the world’s oceans. The MSC program has shown that this leverage works to improve fisheries, which sends a message worldwide that sustainability is important.