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California Approves Fishery Certification Scheme

The Ocean Protection Council approves a MSC-based seafood labeling program

The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) adopted a seafood labeling scheme for the state’s fisheries on Friday that will be the first public-private certification program based on the Marine Stewardship Council criteria, but with stronger standards for protections of leatherback sea turtles and other marine life. The objective of the program is to reward state fisheries that are “sustainable” with an eco-labeling and marketing program funded partly by state government.

As a member of the advisory panel that helped develop the new seafood protocols, SeaTurtles.org generally supported the fishery scheme while seeking commitments to mercury and toxicity warnings for any fish species with state or federal health advisories, such as swordfish, shark and albacore tuna. The OPC agreed to provide information on seafood toxicity as part of the program, but not to include label warnings despite well known risks to women and children. Calculate your risk at GotMercury.org

“The California Sustainable Seafood Protocols offer a credible and supportable program to reward and improve state fisheries,” said Teri Shore, Program Director. “In particular, SeaTurtles.org supports the higher scoring thresholds for endangered species and fish stocks and added scientific oversight that fills the gaps in the Marine Stewardship Council criteria. However, we will continue to push for clear and accessible warnings about mercury and toxics in this state funded program.” Read about campaign work to strengthen the seafood program.

The new program was initiated two years ago after state legislation (AB1217) was passed calling for the implementation of a voluntary program to assist fisheries in getting certified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international certification body that claims to be a model for fishery sustainability.

Because the MSC has certified numerous fisheries that are not sustainable, such as the Florida longline swordfish fishery, SeaTurtles.org won stronger criteria for the California program. The organization plans to watchdog the process moving forward to make sure that no high bycatch or high mercury fishery such as swordfish is ever given the green seal of approval by the Ocean Protection Council.

“Critically endangered leatherbacks along our coast are captured and drowned in longline and gillnet fisheries for swordfish, a practice which is never sustainable,” said Shore. “Given that federal fishery managers are pushing to expand the West Coast swordfish fleet, we want to head off any move to certify such a fishery as sustainable — given the disastrous precedent made in Florida two weeks ago.”

Download the California Sustainable Seafood Initiative protocols and staff report in PDF.