Sustainable consumption doesn’t mean you start promoting certified fish and expect those to eat who don’t eat fish – like pushing red wine (becasue of its health benefits) to people who don’t drink.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was launched in 1997 by Unilever and WWF – a co-creation with common goals between business interests and conservation and biodiversity interests to achieve a global certification scheme for sustaianble fisheries.

Unilever was primarily interested in long-term supply of fish stock, while WWF was interested in exploring market based incentives to drive real improvements in marine stocks.

But MSC faced some challenges in the start:

  • Satisfying diverse stakeholders was a tough ask
  • Many NGO’s called for stricter standards
  • Others felt governments were in better position to take this on
  • Fisheries and industry called for lenient criteria
  • Certification was costly/time consuming
  • Criticism from Greenpeace

Rupert Howes, the then CEO of MSC brought some reforms to MSC in 2005 by way of establishing a proper Governance and transparency structure, maintaining consistency and quality of fishery certifications, and sustainable impacts and the future financial stability.

Overtime, the total number of MSC labeled products grew. But to keep the growth trajectory going MSC faced some challenges ahead:

  • Emergence of weaker labels
  • Frustration from retailers
  • Ongoing criticism from NGO’s
  • Consumer habits
  • Mixed signals of stock availability


  • MSC needs to strike a soft balance between staying objective and remaining relevant to business interests.
  • If MSC becomes financially independent, then it runs the risk of making the certification seem less ethical
  • MSC label serves as a two-sided platform and it needs to address both science and market drivers.

What can be done:

  • Education to consumers: Classic chicken and egg scenario – which comes first – the demand from consumers of supply of certified fish?
  • Retailers driving the MSC agenda: Walmart, Unilever opting only MSC certified fish stock
  • Corporate push: Owing to the global nature of fishing, multinational corporations are much more equipped than national governments

What else do you think can MSC achieve or do to keep its certification label more ethical and independent – especially in the light of the recent accusation? Or do you feel various “sustainable/responsible” fisheries join hands together to reach a common program?

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