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THE Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has issued a statement questioning the sustainability of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) new standards. The statement follows the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) announcement last week that seven of its 43 members were withdrawing support for MSC certification. Since then, the ASMI has made statements about its own locally-developed scheme compared to the MSC’s global standard for the certification of sustainable and well-managed fisheries. The organisation’s website explains the move. “The Alaska industry has been a valued partner in the MSC programme for more than a decade, and that partnership continues to include ASMI as a respected organisation for marketing of Alaska’s seafood. MSC hopes that the Alaskan salmon fishery will be re-entered into assessment for a third certification, and hopes to maintain a collaborative and supportive relationship with ASMI and our industry partners. Because we want the public and our valued partners in the MSC programme to have accurate information, however, we now feel compelled to respectfully respond to certain ASMI statements with correct information.” “The organisation and others are concerned about schemes that are not scientifically credible, rigorous, independent, and third-party, because of their potential to undermine real environmental change. With no reference to any specific fishery intended, an industry-led standard cannot achieve the level of independence, scientific rigor and credibility that ensures that fisheries are genuinely sustainable. “The MSC maintains a rigorous, widely governed and collaborative scientific standard to enable independent accredited certification bodies to assess fisheries that voluntarily enter the programme on stock health, environmental impact and management. Scientific assessment teams, a transparent process, formalised stakeholder input and consultation over all aspects of the assessment from the construction of the teams to the final report, an independent scientific peer review and a formal objections process provide multiple checks and balances to ensure that no one special interest can control the organisation or the outcome of an assessment. “There are numerous local seafood sustainability schemes around the world. Some, including ASMI, make claims about credibility and equivalency to the MSC standard. However, the MSC feels that the ASMI scheme is not an equivalent scheme to the MSC programme as it is not a third-party, independent or transparent certification. “The ASMI hired Global Trust to develop a programme to verify that Alaska fisheries are ‘responsibly managed.’ The scheme was developed without broad consultation and stakeholder engagement, the developer is under contract to ASMI and does the assessment of fisheries ASMI submits. This is not a third-party system. “MSC requires that third-party certifiers are independently accredited specifically to conduct assessments against the MSC standard. The accreditation body (Accreditation Services International) audits the certifiers for their correct application of the standard. The ASMI scheme does not require this accreditation, and the additional check on certification quality that it brings. “The lack of transparency and effective stakeholder engagement in the ASMI scheme is a point of critical concern. Conservation organisations complain that while the ASMI scheme “accepts” input, there is no formalised, transparent process for meaningful participation in the scheme and contribution to the examination of fisheries. In contrast, the MSC programme requires the independent certifiers to engage with stakeholders and post reports for public comment at points throughout the assessment and subsequent annual surveillance audits. “The FAO guidelines require specific indicators of outcome in terms of sustainability of the stock. While the MSC programme requires certified fisheries to be at a sustainable stock level, the ASMI scheme does not verify a fishery’s scientific stock status or certify a fishery as sustainable. Global Trust states that the scheme “verifies responsible management.” Responsible management is an important part of ensuring sustainable fishing practices, but a credible certification programme that meets FAO eco-labelling guidelines must also consider independently verified data on the actual health of the fish stock and the impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem. ‘ “The ASMI scheme is repeatedly referred to as the ‘FAO standard’ or the ‘UN standard’ and references to Alaska fisheries passing this scheme have been said to be ‘certified by the UN’ or ‘FAO certified.’ This is incorrect. The United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) do not have a standard and do not certify fisheries. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was developed by FAO in 1995, and although it is not a certification standard its content has been used to develop the ASMI scheme. The FAO developed Guidelines for the Eco-labelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries in 2005, and those are entirely separate and different from the Code of Conduct. The MSC is the only fishery eco-labelling programme that is fully consistent with FAO and the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL) international guidelines. “ASMI claims that the MSC did not make Alaska’s fisheries sustainable. This is true. MSC are not fishery managers and do not dictate or interfere with oversight and management of fisheries. MSC maintains a global standard for assessing sustainability and assessments against that standard are done by independent, scientific teams of experts. Participation in the MSC programme is voluntary. “ASMI makes comparisons to MSC on the cost of their scheme and suggests the ASMI scheme is free. However, as reported on the ASMI scheme in seafoodnews.com on March 9, 2010, “Each fishery will be separately certified under a four-phase process that could take up to five years…The [ASMI] board approved a budget of up to $700,000 for the first 15 months of the entire four-fishery package, through the end of the fiscal year starting July 1. Continuing annual costs at the same level are projected through completion.” That could amount to an estimated $3.5 million from fishing industry fees and public money designated for marketing, and does not include costs for ongoing assurance of conformity or re-assessment, a part of the program apparently as yet undetermined. “MSC receives no money from the certification assessment process of fisheries against its standard. The fishery pays only time and expenses of the independent certifier and assessment team members, which vary depending on the complexity of the fishery and other factors, but range generally under $200,000. This figure is less for less complex fisheries. “In addition to philanthropic support, the nonprofit MSC receives operating support for our mission from a 0.5% royalty on the wholesale value of any consumer-facing products that carry the MSC ecolabel. This modest fee is applied only at the point the label is applied to a consumer-facing product and thus tends to be spread across the supply chain. Again, this is voluntary. In the case of Alaska salmon, 82% of these royalty fees are paid by European clients of the Alaska salmon fishery who value MSC certification and many of whom have built MSC certification into their procurement policies.”

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