While one could argue that MSC’s ecolabel is in high demand because the company has made great strides in marketing it to retailers, whose compliance, if nothing else, appears to drive consumer demand, there’s no arguing that the world is more and more accepting of farmed fish.
So it would seem that the best way to distinguish the good (meaning, sustainable) from the bad (meaning, well, you know what that means) would be to create an ecolabel that helps consumers buy only the best, “safest,” and sustainable seafood across the board, whether they’re looking to buy farmed or wild.
Today I spoke with Tom White, assistant director of NSF’s Seafood Division, about the market changes that would inevitably result from a label that is essentially MSC standards (which apply only to wild fisheries) as applied to aquaculture. I asked him what the driving force was behind this new label. “On a personal level I think it’s just another option for the consumer as far as sustainability is concerned.”
This is a perfectly acceptable answer if indeed consumers are clamoring for sustainable seafood. But is that what they really want? Studies have shown that at least Stateside, seafood buyers first want it to taste and look good. Then they would like to think it’s not going to poison them. And then it occurs to them that it may or may not be a sustainable product.
So why are there so many ecolabels out there? I believe the answer is that they generate revenue. And in order to keep them generating revenue, the creators of the ecolabels must continue to sell the idea of certified sustainability to the retailers, who believe they’re doing the right thing for their consumers.
But the simple truth is, we can do all of that with well-managed wild fisheries. For how long? I’m not sure. I hate to be the grim reaper, but I fear what the future holds with an influx of finfish farms and the perils they inevitably hold for populations of wild fish.