Certifying sustainable seafood called into question as meaning of eco-labels is examined
18 Oct 2022 --- New research has uncovered consumer expectations around ecolabel certifications linked to seafood consumption. The results show a mixed bag of understanding of precisely what the eco label means.
For instance, 62% of respondents believed an ecolabel to mean there is limited or no damage to the environment associated with catching the seafood. In comparison, 62% also felt that an ecolabel means a seafood product was not caught using a high-impact fishing practice, such as bottom trawling.
Commissioned by the On The Hook campaign surveyed more than 2,000 adults in the UK, 40% of whom indicated that they purchase eco labeled seafood products. They were asked questions relating to their expectations of such products.
Mixed bag of results
48% of respondents felt that an ecolabel means the seafood does not come from a fishery where sharks are killed by finning.
For respondents who stated that they purchased eco labeled seafood products, either exclusively or sometimes, the research revealed that expectations related to those ecolabels were significantly higher.
Of those respondents who indicated they did purchase eco labeled seafood products (40% of the total sample set), 80% believed an ecolabel meant there is limited or no damage to the environment associated with catching the seafood. At the same time, the same number said that it meant seafood is not caught using a high-impact practice, such as bottom-trawling.
78% felt that seafood caught should not use methods that accidentally catch large numbers of non-target species, and 65% thought it means the seafood does not come from a fishery where sharks are killed by finning.
What’s in an eco label?
These findings follow warnings from campaign groups, including On The Hook, which has highlighted that the reality of ecolabels can differ significantly from consumer expectations with certified fisheries, including the use of bottom-towed fishing gear such as trawls (even supertrawlers) and dredges, high levels of bycatch (including of vulnerable or threatened species), and in some cases even shark finning.
Recent research found that between 2009-17 industrial, high-impact fisheries represented 83% of Marine Stewardship Council-certified catches.
On The Hook has also expressed concerns that the MSC’s ecolabel uses a definition of sustainability that rests primarily on stock status and does not incorporate fisheries’ human or climate impacts.
Human component of sustainability
This research sought to understand whether consumers interpret sustainability ecolabels as providing any guarantee on the human impact of certified fisheries, with results indicating that a significant proportion did.
44% of respondents believed an ecolabel means limited carbon emissions are associated with catching the labeled seafood product. In contrast, 41% felt an ecolabel meant that working conditions in the fishery are safe and hygienic.
38% believed it means basic human rights are upheld and 36% that no forced or child labor is used in the fishery, and 30% that living wages are paid for all labor in the fishery.
These results indicate a growing awareness of the human component of sustainability, with consequent expectations for products labeled as ‘sustainable.’
“These public polling results further reinforce our view that there is a fundamental mismatch between what consumers expect from an eco labeled product and the reality of certified fisheries,” says an On The Hook spokesperson.
“Ecolabel heavyweights such as the Marine Stewardship Council should take stock of these results and re-evaluate whether they deliver what seafood consumers need from them.”
With growing awareness of both the environmental damage and human rights abuses perpetrated by components of the fishing industry, consumers must be able to expect that a premium product carrying a sustainability guarantee means something, they stress.
This survey comes on the heels of Spanish seafood multinational Nueva Pescanova investing a reported US$63 million to build the world’s first industrial-scale octopus farm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, next year amid rising octopus consumption demand across the Mediterranean, Asia, Mexico and the US.
Edited by Gaynor Selby
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