Pew Faults Marine Stewardship Council's Decision

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Pew Faults Marine Stewardship Council's Decision

The Pew Environment Group today criticized the decision by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify Antarctic krill. The certification gives the false impression that the entire fishery for Antarctic krill is sustainable when in reality it is not.

Seafood with the MSC label implies that it has been caught in a sustainable manner and does not threaten the local marine ecosystem.      

Krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that serve as a critical food source for penguins, seals and many species of whales that feed in the Southern Ocean, the waters surrounding Antarctica. This new certification poses a serious threat to these and other Antarctic animals that depend on krill to survive.

Aker Biomarine, an integrated biotechnology company that catches and processes Antarctic krill, applied for the MSC label months ago. Fisheries seeking this distinction from the global seafood certifier undergo a review process. Aker operates only one krill fishing vessel in the Southern Ocean, but its certification by the MSC sets a dangerous precedent.  While other companies operate krill fishing vessels around Antarctica, they have not yet approached the MSC for its sustainability label. This is the first time a krill fishery has been certified by the MSC.

“Unfortunately, perception is reality,” said Gerald Leape, director of Pew's Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP). “The MSC's label falsely advertises the message that all krill are sustainably caught and that consuming krill-based omega 3 supplements or purchasing farmed salmon raised on krill meal is okay. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

To date, there have been few studies on krill populations. However, the overlap between the fishery and krill predators is increasingly well documented. 

“In its decision, the MSC ignored irrefutable evidence put forward by numerous stakeholders including prominent Antarctic scientists, climate change and forage fishery experts and environmental groups,” said Leape.

While there were many points of contention, the following highlight some of the AKCP's major concerns to the certification of the Aker Biomarine krill fishery by the MSC:

  • MSC's standards allow for the certification of a single operator in a fishery. In general, this runs contrary to its mission of ocean protection. If a few ships are acting responsibly but the vast majority are not, the target population could still be at risk of being overfished.

  • Climate change impacts to species are not considered by MSC methodology. As krill have been proven to be susceptible to climate change, the impact of warming temperatures on the population must be considered, if fishing is to be sustainable.

  • Numerous uncertainties are associated with the determinants and drivers of krill population size. Though extensively studied, scientists are still learning what affects krill population size. Without this knowledge, it is difficult to set appropriate catch limits.