The non-profit will focus on ecosystems underrepresented by the MSC standard to raise certified marine catch from current levels of 14% to 20% by 2020, and then to more than a third by 2030. The goal will be accompanied by an aim to double the number of fisheries in the global south with MSC certification over the next three years.

Speaking on the MSC’s 20th anniversary on Tuesday (25 April), the organisation’s chief executive Rupert Howes said: “While there is much to celebrate, there is also a growing sense of urgency to address unsustainable fishing and deliver Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This is a critical time for our oceans. The MSC’s new strategy prioritises those parts of the world, species and markets which can have the most significant impact on the health of our oceans. It remains true to the vision of our founders, building on the lessons of the past.”

Howes paid tribute to MSC partners including certified seafood businesses throughout the supply chain. A host of UK retailers and restaurants have signed up to the standard in recent times, most recently hotel chain Premier Inn, which has pledged to serve an extra three million sustainable portions of fish and chips across the UK.

Wider catch

The MSC now aims to push on through deepened engagement with key commercials partners across the European markets of Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy, as well as the US, China and Japan.

A strengthened focus on the need to meet global best practice will see new measures, such as labour practices, introduced, along with new tools and systems to make the certification more efficient and user-friendly. For instance, the MSC will deliver new digital auditing tools to better enable fisheries in the Global South to gain MSC certification.

The MSC will include new priority species such as squid, octopus, crab and seaweed. This move was welcomed by German discount supermarket Lidl, one of the first large retailers to commit to responsibly sourced seafood.

Speaking at the MSC and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) annual Seafood Futures Forum on Tuesday, Lidl’s international CSR manager Judith Konty said: “In the years that Lidl has worked with the MSC and ASC, we have witnessed more and more fisheries and producers achieving certification, but delivering our commitment still presents challenges.

“For example, we are eager for more certified species, notably octopus and squid, and we believe more effort is needed to engage consumers in Eastern and Southern Europe in support of responsible and sustainable seafood.”

Ecological degradation

While organisations like the MSC work to secure increasing quantities of sustainably sourced seafood, environmental concerns remain over the marine settings which harbour marine life. New cross-party research has warned that marine protected areas (MPAs) are not being effectively managed, and that the UK Government needs to do more to protect vulnerable habitats and species.

Ministers recently announced more than £20m will be invested in doubling the area of ocean under marine protection around British overseas territories. But MPs have said that slow progress is being made to designate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Only 50 MCZs have been designated so far – well short of the 127 originally recommended in 2011.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has expressed concern that the Government had “moved the goalposts” by setting unreasonably high standards of evidence for designating protected areas. The Government should commit to establishing highly-protected reference areas within the MPA network and put in place strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity, the EAC said.

“It is worrying and disappointing the Government have still not got their act together on assigning the vulnerable MPAs,” EAC’s chair Mary Creagh said. “The Government needs to focus on monitoring and protecting the current areas rather than moving the goal posts to create unachievable and over complicated demands on the management of susceptible areas. Without effective management, surveillance or monitoring our MPAs are just paper parks.

“The Government needs to put firm plans in place to stop further degradation of our vulnerable ecological systems, before they are destroyed forever.”

George Ogleby

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