Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hong Kong: Summit Discussion on Ecolabelling, Sustainability

Matt Thompson is a senior aquaculture specialist with the Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Programs (SSP). He is going to be blogging from the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong. The Seafood Summit brings all those concerned with sustainable seafood together in a conference to identify challenges and look for solutions. 

The Summit kicked off with a special program about the future of sustainable ecolabelling and certification in the seafood marketplace. Generally, an ecolabel or certification is a logo shown on a package of seafood that tells the customer that that product has met certain environmental requirements. There are many differences between certification schemes, for example some may be self-certified, whereas others are termed “third party” meaning that separate entities develop, audit and verify compliance with the content of the standards. The USDA organic logo is an example of a third-party certification - but you won’t find as USDA organic logo on seafood anytime soon, since no standard has yet been defined for these products. Several speakers, including the Sustainable Seafood Programs' own Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Meghan Jeans, offered their perspectives on seafood certification. Meghan highlighted the benefits of having the requirements for certification being defined by a diverse committee of representatives, such as fish farmers and conservation organizations like the Aquarium. In this way, the requirements developed would likely be more effective at addressing the concerns of the various stakeholders throughout the seafood industry. 

The meeting continued with another panel of representatives of seafood certification schemes, including the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices. Each group presented its thoughts on another important factor of certification: To what degree that they drive fisheries or fish farms to reduce their environmental impacts in order to meet the goals of certification – with each one highlighting ways in which they believed they had an impact.

Another initiative that the Aquarium is a key player in was also presented at the meeting: the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative (GSSI). GSSI will compare certifications on their content and how they operate, in order to highlight those that meet various stakeholders requirements for “credible” certification – this is important as the current situation has been described as “watching a football (soccer) match with no rules and no referee” (Aldin Hilbrands, Royal Ahold).

The meeting generated significant interest, and highlighted the amount of work that had gone into these schemes, as well as that still to do. One aspect that was clear though was how influential the New England Aquarium has been in this area; with many of the standards, improvements in the schemes, and improvements in the seafood certification industry being informed directly, or indirectly, using the expertise of Aquarium staff.

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