Celebrating its 10th anniversary last year, the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based international non-profit, is changing the way seafood is sourced in the U.S. and Canada. During the past five years, Will Martin, chairman of the MSC board of trustees, has helped make the group the go-to non-governmental organization when a retailer wants to evaluate its seafood suppliers and develop a sustainable seafood program.
Overfishing has become a major concern in recent years, and more and more retailers are partnering with NGOs to provide sustainable seafood for their customers. And, MSC’s standards are fast becoming the bar against which retailers are choosing to measure their seafood suppliers.
In April, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores announced that it will soon source only wild-caught fish that are certified to MSC standards or the minimum equivalent. And, the company went to MSC for input on ways it could leverage its power as a retailer to help shift the larger seafood marketplace toward more sustainable practices.
Through effective partnerships such as this, MSC achieves its goal of helping to transform the seafood industry to a more sustainable model, Martin told SN.
“So maintaining, strengthening and extending those partnerships is key to our mission,” he said.
“In [North America], for example, we have worked very successfully with leading retailers and seafood brands — including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Target and Loblaw — promoting sustainable seafood, increasing sales and building on their brand equity.”
Even other NGOs, like the World Wildlife Fund, use standards generated by the MSC when working with retailers on similar projects. In late 2009, for example, Kroger Co. announced a partnership with the WWF to develop a strategy for responsibly sourced wild seafood — the WWF is using MSC standards to rate Kroger’s source fisheries.
The growth in the number of MSC-labeled products doubled in one year to nearly 5,000, Martin told SN. That, combined with the rise in the number of companies in the supply chain with Chain of Custody licenses — the MSC standard for seafood traceability — demonstrates that the shift in the marketplace toward sustainability is not a fair-weather trend, but reflects profound consumer preferences, he said.
“A study that Accenture did in conjunction with U.N. Global Fund found as well that an overwhelming majority of CEOs say that the [economic] downturn has raised the importance of sustainability, with consumers increasingly demanding goods and services that address sustainability concerns,” Martin pointed out.
“Our program helps businesses put sustainability at the heart of their strategy.”
Last year was MSC’s 10th anniversary, and Martin said it was a good time to highlight the 42 fisheries with which the organization shared the first decade of its journey, through “Net Benefits,” a publication featuring interviews with leaders from each of the fisheries telling their stories about sustainability and what it means to them.
“Ten years is also a good time to reflect on lessons learned and to look forward,” he said. “We’re listening very closely to our partners, and we’ve begun the work of developing new policies, procedures and systems of support to make sure that the program keeps up with current thinking and good practice, is responsive to emerging issues, and provides the best possible experience for all our partners.”
Support for the MSC program is growing rapidly around the world, and Martin said that he and MSC will continue to work with partners to ensure that the program delivers everything they need from a market-based program.
“We enjoy a great deal of support from U.S. retailers and foodservice companies and we hope to carry out more marketing campaigns with them to increase awareness of sustainable seafood with the U.S. consumer.”