Eco-certifications in the hot seat
Certifications are supposed to help shoppers make environmentally friendly purchases. Yet watchdogging by conservation organizations, including Living Oceans, shows that certifications often fail to live up to their promises to shoppers. The last couple of months has seen a flurry of exposés on greenwashing by seafood certifications.
First, Living Oceans led an alliance of more than 80 groups across the globe calling on the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and GLOBALG.A.P. to revoke their certifications from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, due to unequivocal evidence that salmon farms operations in the harbour are the primary threat to the endangered Maugean skate. Instead of taking the concern seriously, both certifications so far have dug their heels in by stating farms meet local regulations and, thus, meet their certification requirements.
But surely if local regulations aren’t adequately protecting an endangered species, shouldn’t that be enough of a red flag for sustainability certifications to not grant certification?! Apparently, not so. Similarly, and closer to home, since 2015, Living Oceans and our SeaChoice allies have been calling out the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) for weakening their requirements and deferring to local regulations that don’t protect endangered wild salmon.
It's not just Tasmania or British Columbia that are experiencing a greenwash of farmed salmon. This month our Scottish counterparts, WildFish, released a report aptly titled Responsibly Farmed? The report investigates ASC, RSPCA Assured and the Soil Association Organic certifications. Examples of irresponsible practices include how salmon farms managed to keep their ASC certification despite breaching (weak) sea lice requirements; and how parasiticide chemicals are allowed under the Soil Association’s so called “organic” certification. WildFish summed up the certification schemes as being “little more than a greenwashing operation”.
And it’s not just salmon farming certifications that greenwash. The French marine organization, BLOOM, didn’t hold back with their new report, on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), titled The Death Label: The MSC’s fake sustainability but true destruction of tuna populations. The report finds that MSC has consistently weakened its standard in order to certify some of the world’s largest tuna fisheries that use unsustainable Fish-Aggregating Devices (FADs). FADs are associated with bycatch of juvenile tuna, sharks and turtles. Until 2011, 100% of MSC-certified tuna was from small-scale low impact fisheries such as pole and line. Today, around half of all MSC certified tuna are from FAD fisheries (approx. 1.2 billion kilos).
Undoubtedly, these certifications are making dubious and uncredible endorsements of farms and fisheries that are harmful to our oceans and marine life. However, importantly, major grocers should also bear responsibility for promoting the certifications instore. Both BLOOM and WildFish call out the grocery stores for misleading consumers with these certifications.
Living Oceans and SeaChoice have created a handy guide for shoppers on how the farmed salmon certifications stack up. We also score Canadian grocers and major seafood brands based on whether they use credible certifications, or not. Check out how your grocery store scores on Seafood Progress.