The international treaty we propose will be a key tool in working to unite leaders of countries across the world and help them establish policies in their own country to curb overfishing. Some of our ideas, however, especially those concerning education and awareness, would be best implemented and administered by non-governmental organizations. NGOs have the potential to target and work with communities in multiple countries and less subjected to the influence of political representatives.
Ecolabels and the Certification of Sustainably-Caught Fish
In generating awareness about the importance of sustainable fisheries among consumers in developed countries, it is important to tie this into economic markets by establishing an ecolabel that is stamped onto fish that has been harvested from a fishery with good practices. By distinguishing sustainably-caught fish from fish that is harvested from declining stocks, we can encourage consumers to support companies that work to maintain the fisheries instead of exploiting them. The success of sustainable goods in the market today can be seen in the current market for organic and fair trade products. The dolphin-safe campaign provides evidence that labeling, coupled with awareness, can indeed have an affect on consumer behavior (Teisl et al., 2001).
As of right now there are several groups that "certify" and put a label on sustainable fish, the most prominent of which is the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent, non-profit organization based in the UK. Established in 1999 as a joint effort between industry (Unilever) and conservation (WWF), the MSC has certified 857 products as of September 2007 (MSC 2007). A major issue the MSC faces is the lack of publicity: because so few sustainable fish products exist and the council is independent of other larger conservation groups, the lack of name recognition has made it more difficult for the MSC to advertise the advantages of the ecolabeled products. Before the MSC began to market its products, a survey conducted in the U.S. in 1998 showed that only 5 percent of those polled would trust the MSC as a certification agency, compared to 23 percent for WWF and 49 percent for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Since then, markets such as Wal-Mart and Whole Foods have pledged to sell MSC-certified products (Gunther, 2006), which will undoubtedly have an impact because the two retailers tend to tailor to two very different types of consumers, but many other markets have yet to realize that by doing business with sustainable fisheries, they are insuring that their fish supply will not collapse in the future.
Meanwhile, the Global Aquaculture Alliance, another international NGO, has outlined standards for "best aquacultural practices," detailing measures that include property rights, biodiversity protection, environmental management, and food safety for both shrimp farms and shrimp hatcheries. Guidelines are also given for seafood processing plants. Foods processed at facilities that meet these standards are granted certification from the Aquaculture Certification Council, Inc.
We believe it would prove more effective for these organizations, and any other labeling intiatives that may form, to unite their efforts. This way the group could gain global trust and standardized labels could be provided for easy recognition of the meaning of the ecolabel. This model can be taken after the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, which brings together 20 different labeling initiatives under one name and one logo.
FLO International also plays an overarching role in linking the suppliers of fair trade products - such as the various producer organizations representing small farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America - to retailers and consumers in North America, Europe, and Australia. While the producers of sustainable fish can come from both the fisheries of both developed and developing nations, the sustainability label, like the fair trade label, will be targeted mainly towards consumers in developed countries who are most appealed by the "feel-good factor" and are most likely to be able to afford the luxury. The list of countries where MSC labeled food is currently sold is largely consistent with the countries that have fair trade intiatives. When Alaskan pollock received its MSC certification in 2004, Richard Muir, the president of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, expressed his hopes that the label would help the marketing group, and cited Europeans in particular as strong supporters of sustainable products (Alaska Pollock Press Release, 2004).
Regarding the design and labeling criteria, we propose a three tier system, consisting of red, yellow, and green labels. The red label will indicate a product from an unhealthy, unsustainable population which if possible should not be eaten. The yellow and green labels will indicate fish that are being fished in a sustainable manner with the difference being that they yellow labeled fish come from populations that have not yet completely recovered while the green labeled fish come from populations that have reached half of carrying capacity and are being fished at or slightly below maximum sustainable yield. We would encourage choosing green labeled fish over those with yellow labels, and strongly discourage any consumption of red labeled fish.
One obstacle that still stands in the way is money. Seventy-five percent of the MSC's funds comes from charitable grants (MSC, 2005), which, if too scarce, severely puts a limit to the size and scope of the labeling program. A part of the remainder of the money comes from profits from the licensing fee the MSC charges companies for the use of the label; the actual certification process is conducted and paid to a third party certification program. It would cost a company anywhere from $35,000 to $500,000 for the assessment of their facilities and fishing methods in order to qualify for certification (MSC, 2005), and the use of the logo costs a base fee plus 0.5% of the profits. This increase may be translated into increased prices for the consumer.
A constant obstacle for all environmental efforts is cost. Campaigning, outreach, transition to sustainable practices, and a plethora of other initiatives would require funding and financial support. Many NGOs currently rely on charitable donations and occasionally funding from the government, but education and fundraising can also go hand-in-hand. Currently the World Wildlife Fund offers an Adopt-an-Animal program, where donors can decide to directly support up to 80 endangered species by giving money and, in return, receiving a stuffed animal and informational updates on the status of the species. Oceana has created a similar Adopt-a-Creature program focused on 16 marine animals. Another idea would be to take this one step further and start an Adopt-a-Fish program that would allow people to adopt different species of fish, which would promote to the public some more obscure types of fish.
An NGO may also want to take advantage of the growing consumer culture and create clothing, tote bags, posters, and bumper stickers that would present the dire reality of the fishery situation. These products could present anything from images to facts, and proceeds can go towards funding fish conservation intiatives.
We also propose the creation of an NGO which would help match college students learning to do environmental research with countries who need research conducted but lack researchers. The host country could provide housing and food, while the students' colleges and the students themselves can arrange transport. The preponderance of study-abroad programs in the United States attests to the desire of students to work abroad. Such a program would help countries gain valuable environmental data, while also educating students about environmental concerns on a global scale.