Two employees of an international consulting firm associated with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recently recommended that a massive industrial fishing operation be certified as a sustainable, ignoring the fact that the fishery depletes the ecosystem of the “most important fish in the sea,” potentially depriving predators like humpback whales, striped bass, and osprey of forage they need to thrive.  The menhaden reduction fishery is not sustainable and for supposed professionals to suggest that it is, verges on malpractice.  

This recommendation comes despite MSC rules that require a more conservative approach to managing forage species like these.  While it was bad enough that these reviewers recommended that the MSC certify Atlantic menhaden as sustainable, these same consultants are now recommending that Gulf menhaden also be designated as sustainable.  

These absurd recommendations should be immediately reversed by SAI Global and company executives should fire these irresponsible employees.  Further, the MSC should no longer rely on the advice of SAI global when considering whether a fishery should be certified.  

If you are as pissed off as I am that the Marine Stewardship Council and SAI global would consider certifying menhaden, please click here and send a message to the SAI global leadership letting them know that these employees, and their company, is acting irresponsibly by allowing this certification recommendation to stand.  Whatever integrity SAI Global and the MSC may have is on the line with this decision.  

The MSC is a certification scheme that allows fishing companies to have their seafood product certified as sustainable by third party consultants Visit MSC website.  If certification is attained, then the MSC label goes on the company’s products and consumers are led to believe that the fishery is sustainable.  While in theory this is not a bad idea, in practice, it is a failure, especially in a case like this one.  MSC abdicates all responsibility for the reviews of these fisheries, relying instead on guidelines set up by the MSC for 3rd party consultants to implement.  If the decision of the 3rd party reviewer does not go the way MSC leadership would like, these “leaders” blame it on the “process,” and the consulting firm.  Never-mind that the fishing company is applying for an MSC blue label of sustainability and has no interest in an SAI Global badge of approval.  And never-mind that the consulting firms doing the reviews are compensated by the fishing companies seeking certification.  In this system, how can MSC possibly believe that a consulting firm hired by the industry would follow their guidelines and reject a fishery for being unsustainable?  It has not happened in this case and my guess is that is seldom, if ever, does.

Menhaden are too important to the ecosystem to allow this travesty to stand.   SAI Global is ignoring the MSC guidance for certifying “key low trophic level species” by not requiring that a larger percentage of the fish be left in the water to meet predator needs.   The fishery is not accounting for the needs of predators in management, and yet Omega Protein has successfully lobbied the Virginia legislature to fall out of compliance with even the weak current management system.  The Virginia legislature has been kowtowed by the Omega Protein, and their Canadian Parent Company, Cooke Inc.  Given that Omega Protein spent more than $100,000 lobbying in VA, it is no wonder they have found a receptive audience in the legislature.  Again, money trumps conservation.  

Ironically, if the reduction fishery did not exist, the coastal fishing economy would thrive, since the striped bass fishery, whale and dolphin watching, and other economic drivers enabled by abundant menhaden far outstrip the measly impacts of an antiquated fishing practice that sells this incredibly valuable ecosystem species for a mere eight cents a pound.  

It’s even worse in the Gulf of Mexico, where two foreign owned companies, Omega Protein and Daybrook fisheries (owned by South African Oceana), catch more than a billion-gulf menhaden a year in Louisiana and Mississippi, with no management system in place whatsoever.  There is no consideration for the ecosystem, whether it be predator needs or bycatch concerns.  Heck, there’s not even a catch limit.  

What’s worse, is that these valuable ecosystem fish are completely wasted on an unnecessary commodities market.  Menhaden are ground up for fish meal and oil and sold for pennies a pound on things like pet food, swine feed, and aquaculture feed.  Every single one of these uses can be substituted with more sustainable feed stock.  The one use that Cooke Inc may argue is indispensable due to the nutritional benefits of wild caught fish, is for use as feed for salmon farming (for which Cooke has many salmon farming operations around the world).  However, even in salmon farming, substitutes are widely available.  And who wants farmed salmon anyway?  It is an environmentally harmful practice that adversely impacts the local ecosystem and puts wild salmon populations at risk.

Every east coast state except Virginia has banned the practice of reduction fishing.  In the Gulf, Florida does not allow it, and other Gulf states of put strict caps on the catch.  Instead of allowing this brutal extraction of menhaden to continue, every state should ban reduction fishing altogether.  IF they will not, the Federal government should step in and do it.  

SAI Global and MSC should be embarrassed by their efforts to date to put a sustainable label on the menhaden fishery.  They should both take strong action now to ensure that this does not happen.  Omega Protein/Cooke Inc is an irresponsible actor and the SAI Global and MSC are embracing that bad behavior.  

Protest MSC.  Protest Reduction Fishing.  Sign the Petition. CLICK HERE

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