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Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management

  • Universiti Utara Malaysia, Sintok, Malaysia


National and intergovernmental regulation of fisheries has not prevented many failures of fisheries management around the world. New approaches to improving the environmental sustainability of fisheries have included the certification of fisheries harvested by sustainable means, and the ecolabelling of fish and seafood products from certified fisheries. The intention is to use the power of markets as an incentive to induce more sustainable fisheries. To date, only a relatively small number of fisheries have been certified, and these have been predominantly in developed countries. Critiques from developing countries of ecolabelling, as currently formulated, focus on five general areas: (1) legitimacy and credibility; (2) a mismatch between certification requirements and the reality of tropical small-scale fisheries; (3) potential distortions to existing practices and livelihoods; (4) equity and feasibility; and (5) perceived barriers to trade. This paper reviews these developing country concerns on the basis of already certified fisheries, and on experiences from forestry, aquaculture and the aquarium industry, and also examines precedents and trends in international environmental and trade issues. It suggests that ecolabelling as currently practiced is unlikely to be widely adopted in Asian countries. Certification may have sporadic success in some eco-conscious, or niche, markets but it is unlikely to stimulate global improvement of fisheries management.
Ecolabelling and
Fisheries Management
P .R . Gardiner and K. Kuperan Viswanathan
Ecolabelling and
Fisheries Management
P.R. Gardiner and K. Kuperan Viswanathan
Formerly known as “ICLARM – The World Fish Center”
Published by WorldFish Center
PO Box 500 GPO, 10670 Penang Malaysia
Gardiner, P.R. and K.K.Viswanathan. 2004. Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management.
WorldFish Center Studies and Reviews 27, 44.
Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia. Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management/P.R Gardiner and K. Kuperan Viswanathan.
ISBN 983-2346-23-1
1.Eco-labeling 2.Fishery management 3.Fisheries - Economic aspects
4.Fishery conservation. I.Viswanathan, K. Kuperan II.Title
Editor: Wendy Tubman
Cover photos by: Ken Ray Communications Sdn Bhd, P.R.Gardiner
and WorldFish photo collection
Design and layout: Ken Ray Communications Sdn Bhd
ISBN 983-2346-23-1
WorldFish Center Contribution No. 1714
Printed by Print Resources, Penang, Malaysia
Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
P.R. Gardiner
K.Kuperan Viswanathan
WorldFish Center is one of the 16 international
research centers of the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that has initiated the public
awareness campaign, Future Harvest.
Abstract iv
Foreword v
1The State of Marine Capture Fisheries 1
1.1 The Benefits and Damage from the Exploitation of Fisheries 1
2Factors in an Overall Approach for Better Management 3
3What is Ecolabelling? 5
3.1 The Different Types of Label 5
3.2 Developing Programs of Certification 6
3.3 Some Key Outcomes from the Development of Forestry Certification 7
3.4 The Marine Stewardship Council 9
3.5 The Example of the Hoki Fishery Certification 9
4Certification Applied to Developing Country Fisheries 13
4.1 Reactions to Ecolabelling and the MSC Initiative 13
4.1.1 Legitimacy and Credibility 13
4.1.2 The Mismatch Between Certification Requirements and
the Reality of Tropical Small-Scale Fisheries
4.1.3 Potential Distortions of Existing Practices and Livelihoods 15
4.1.4 Equity and Feasibility 16
4.1.5 Perceived Barriers to Trade 17
4.2 International Research Support for the Improvement and Extension
of Labelling Schemes
5Ecolabelling and International Trade 19
5.1 Technical Barriers to Trade 19
5.2 Conflicts over Trade, Environment and Seafood Labels 19
5.2.1 Dolphin-Free Tuna 19
5.2.2 Turtle-Free Shrimp 21
5.2.3 A Sardine in Europe 22
5.3 New Evaluation of Rules for Trade and the Environment 22
5.4 Allied International and Industry Initiatives Towards Certification
and Labelling in the Marine Aquarium Trade and Aquaculture
5.4.1 The Aquarium Trade 23
5.4.2 Aquaculture – International and Industry Moves Towards
Certification of Shrimp and Salmon
5.5 Can Ecolabelling Schemes Succeed? Economic Choice, Substitution
and Leakiness
6The Importance of Ecolabelling with Respect to Other
Management Initiatives 29
6.1 Indicators of Fisheries Management 29
6.2 The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management 30
6.3 Certification and Community-Based Fisheries 31
6.4 Avenues for Research and International Support 32
6.5 Setting the Agenda and a Call for Response 32
7Conclusions 35
Acknowledgements 37
References 37
Annex 41
Acronyms 44
National and intergovernmental regulation of fisheries has not prevented many failures
of fisheries management around the world.
New approaches to improving the environmental sustainability of fisheries have included
the certification of fisheries harvested by sustainable means, and the ecolabelling of fish
and seafood products from certified fisheries. The intention is to use the power of markets
as an incentive to induce more sustainable fisheries. To date, only a relatively small number
of fisheries have been certified, and these have been predominantly in developed countries.
Critiques from developing countries of ecolabelling, as currently formulated, focus on five
general areas: a) legitimacy and credibility; b) a mismatch between certification requirements
and the reality of tropical small-scale fisheries; c) potential distortions to existing practices
and livelihoods; d) equity and feasibility; and e) perceived barriers to trade.
This paper reviews these developing country concerns on the basis of already certified
fisheries, and on experiences from forestry, aquaculture and the aquarium industry, and
also examines precedents and trends in international environmental and trade issues. It
suggests that ecolabelling as currently practiced is unlikely to be widely adopted in Asian
countries. Certification may have sporadic success in some eco-conscious, or niche, markets
but it is unlikely to stimulate global improvement of fisheries management.
The paper argues that to avoid the controversy that accompanies ecolabelling, the focus
should be on revision of national fisheries management and not on an ad hoc approach
to individual fisheries. Improvements in fisheries management, the equitable treatment
of fishing sub-sectors and stakeholders within management schemes, and the prospect
of reaping increased value-added from fisheries all require government acceptance of
needs and actions. Governments should be encouraged to enter into broad coalitions to
improve aspects of fisheries management, and to enhance efforts to develop locally
relevant indicator systems for fisheries and for the ecosystem approach. Governments of
developing countries must also first address the difficult questions of access to and tenure
arrangements for their fisheries, as these are essential prerequisites for successful certification
and product labeling. They will also need to legislate on the form and conduct of the post
harvest chain and product control, as, in export markets, these are outside the control of
the fishing communities. International agreement and clarity on trade, environmental
(and health) standards affecting fisheries will augment national efforts. Advocacy coalitions
that include governments, rather than extraterritorial imposition of labelling schemes,
are required.
Paying for sustainable management will be costly, but it will go some way toward
acknowledging the real environmental costs of fish harvesting. True pricing of fish in the
world market will be of advantage to developing countries in trade terms. Sustainable
fisheries management will be of advantage to all.
The world over, fisheries stand out as resources that are difficult to manage
or are poorly or little managed. The sector presents challenges, as both industrial
and small-scale fisheries exist, often side-by-side, and governance initiatives
must cater to the combined requirements of resource sustainability, and the
economic and social issues which surround fishing.
Small-scale fisheries provide jobs and livelihoods for nearly 98 per cent of
the world’s 51 million fishers, and the lack of good governance in this sector
threatens the sustainability of the resources and the rural livelihoods that are
dependent upon them. A key driver of the overexploitation of the resource
is that fish and seafood products remain highly profitable commodities that
are extensively traded in the international markets. Fisheries trade today is
being shaped by two very different trends. One is towards globalization and
deregulation, while the other is towards complex processes of re-regulation,
sometimes by governments but often also by way of private initiatives and
voluntary regulation. One such measure is the introduction of ecolabelling
of natural products, which aims to combat unsustainable harvesting practices
by using market incentives (and the threat of market exclusion) to secure
socially and environmentally acceptable harvesting behavior.
The WorldFish Center is an international organization contributing to the
promotion of sustainable management of fisheries and coastal resources in
order to enhance the well-being of present and future generations of poor
people in the developing world. This study by WorldFish addresses the question:
Can the market that drives globalization and international trade play an
important role in sustaining fisheries resources? The impetus for the study
came essentially from the partner countries, who are struggling with policy
and implementation issues in this new area of management. The study
discusses the merits and issues for ecolabelling as a potential tool in fisheries
management globally – and examines the reasons for the reticence of some
fisheries officers, particularly in developing countries, to become involved.
The authors analyze the placement of the ecolabelling initiative in relation
to the overall need for improvement in fisheries management, and examine
and suggest how some of the reservations can be tested or dispelled. The role
of developing country governments in laying the groundwork for the successful
implementation of fisheries management is explored. It is suggested that
broader, more flexible, coalitions between governments and all sorts of fisheries
and environmental stakeholder organizations are required if developing
countries are to enter international trade on an equitable footing and to
capitalize on market trends.
It is hoped that this review will be of value to national fisheries management
organizations, as well as international environmental and development donors,
as they consider the use of market-driven interventions in the larger field of
natural resource management.
Meryl Williams
Director General
WorldFish Center
The declines in marine capture fisheries (FAO 1996;
Williams 1996; Christy 1997; Pauly et al. 1998;
Watson and Pauly 2001; ICLARM 2001; Bianchi et
al. 2001; ICES 2002) result from iterative failures
in policy formulation, implementation and
enforcement affecting both developed and
developing countries. In the developed countries,
where scientific advice has been available, it has
been undone by lack of precaution, lack of political
will and perverse subsidies to the industry, which
have enhanced rather than controlled fishing
capacity. There are, of course, notable exceptions
(e.g. selected fisheries in New Zealand, Australia
and north America). But, at the time of writing, the
effective collapse of cod stocks in the Irish sea,
points to weaknesses in basing stock management
on single-species evaluation methods, and to
mismatches between the prescribed measures for
management and their enforcement.
In developing countries, certainly in tropical
developing countries, coastal and marine fisheries
are characterized by multi-species fisheries fished
with a range of gears and by commercial, municipal
and community fishers. Some coastal fisheries (e.g.
in the Pacific and Asia) are managed through the
exercise of traditional fishing rights, but the majority
have open access regimes, in which there is little
ability to manage individual stocks or stock
complexes, or to enforce zoning regulations between
the different types of fishery. On the high seas, or
with highly migratory or straddling stocks, the issue
is the effective exercise of responsibility by individual
or collaborating states. The challenges associated
with monitoring and enforcement over wide areas
complicate management regimes, and illegal,
unreported and unregulated fishing is so widespread
that it undermines global statistics (Bray 2000).
1.1 The Benefits and Damage from
the Exploitation of Fisheries
is a healthy protein staple and its many types
and products are widely traded on world markets.
The trade in fish and seafood products is of
particular importance to developing countries. In
2000, total world fish supply amounted to
approximately 130 million tonnes, with
approximately two thirds of this derived from
marine and inland water capture fisheries, and one
third being provided by aquaculture (FAO 2000).
A large share of fish production enters international
trade, with about 37 per cent (live weight equivalent)
exported in 2000. Developing countries as a whole
supply nearly 50 per cent of total exports in value
terms. Lower income developing countries play an
active part in this trade and, at present, account for
almost 20 per cent of exports; this trade contributes
substantially to their gross domestic product. In
2000, the total import bill for global trade in
fisheries products was slightly in excess of US$60
billion (FAO 2000). Developed countries account
for over 80 per cent of total imports by value. Asia
dominates both production and trade, supplying
over 85 per cent of total world production and
being responsible for US$18 to 19 billion of exports.
Fisheries in developing countries have importance
beyond the export dollar value. At the domestic
level they also provide food security from common
property resources for the poor; livelihoods; rural
and urban nutrition; and have cultural values in
some societies. Internationally proposed schemes
for improving the sustainability of fisheries will
have to accommodate countries’ requirements in
these areas and not just the export bottom line.
The parlous state of fisheries in Asia (where coastal
Unless specified, the word “fish” in this article is taken in the generic sense to include finfish, and other seafood including crustacea and mollusks.
1 The State of Marine Capture Fisheries
fisheries’ biomasses are down to 8 to 12 per cent
of unfished levels (ICLARM 2001), and where there
are reductions in relative abundance of longer lived,
high value species and a relative increase of lower
priced species such as squid) threatens export and
domestic, monetary and non-monetary benefits.
Open access regimes and poor enforcement of
management regulations have led to severe over-
fishing, and structural problems mean that owners
of craft and gear still make money while crews and
artisanal fishers are confined to poverty. The
potential profits from fishing are decreasing while
the relative costs of fishing under the current
biomass levels are increasing (ICLARM 2001).
In developing countries, such collapses, and the
inability of scientific management regimes to make
themselves understood to fishers at the local level,
have led to a general lack of credibility for the
scientific information about the conditions of fish
stocks. The perceptions that fishers have regarding
the condition of fisheries at the local level and what
fisheries managers are telling them, are often far
apart. Obtaining support for fisheries management
policies developed by researchers in fisheries
research centers and government institutes is
difficult. The credibility gap means that stock
assessment results and models of management are
not well received by fishers. Consequently, uptake
of recommendations is limited and attempts at
management tend to fail.
The urgency of the situation caused by the successive
failures in management and the need to rebuild
depleted fisheries globally (Ministry of Fisheries,
Government of Iceland/FAO 2001; Pauly et al.
2002) were recognized in the final declaration of
the World Summit for Sustainable Development
(WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002 (WSSD
2002). The time is right, therefore, to examine the
fundamental political failures in fisheries
management and to rigorously test new alternatives
and incentives. Improved fisheries management
for sustainability of the resource could result, for
instance, if confidence at the local level could be
recaptured and if new incentives for fisheries to
improve their state of health or methods of harvest
were provided.
2 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Given the importance of fish and seafood products
to so many, it is not surprising that various
approaches to improving the management of
fisheries are being explored.
One factor that is included in this approach relates
to managerial responsibility. Formerly, the
management of fisheries at the national level was
generally based on a centralized governmental
command and control structure. At more local
levels, fisheries governance in developing countries
has been exercised through traditional practices or
through the emergence of user groups.
To try to increase agreement and compliance with
management plans, governments have moved
increasingly to the actual or experimental devolution
of management authority. In recent years this has
been accompanied by a large body of research on,
and evaluation of, the relative efficiency of
cooperative management regimes.
Another factor being considered relates to the
method of stock assessment, which, in developed
countries, has been science-based. It has become
apparent that, in developing countries, a science-
based approach to developing, explaining, and
using indicators for fisheries management when
dealing with the wider group of potential
stakeholders is less appropriate.
A third major factor in fisheries management is
that even sophisticated single-species management
plans can be undone. This occurs when the fishing
methods used have unwanted impacts on the wider
ecosystem. Furthermore, irrespective of the fishery-
specific plans, decisions and practices outside the
fishing sector can affect the integrity of aquatic
ecosystems and fisheries. In consequence, ecosystem
approaches to fisheries management are being
developed (FAO 1995; Ministry of Fisheries,
Government of Iceland/FAO 2001), and the WSSD
(WSSD 2002) has promoted solutions to fisheries
in the wider concept of sustainable development.
A fourth management factor relates to the fact that
the exploitation of renewable natural resources on
a purely economic basis fails to pay the price of
sustainability. This must be factored into future
management plans and costs, so that the
commodity will be traded at its true value. The idea
that many failures in natural resources management
are brought about by the lack of the internalization
of environmental externalities has been cogently
advanced (Panayotou 1993; Van Dieren 1995; Bawa
and Gadgil 1997). This is particularly the case in
fisheries where price is determined more by the
buyers and less by the cost of fishing. The social
costs of fishery resources are not factored in
(Tokrisna 2000), and indeed few coastal states are
willing to try and remedy the situation through the
use of economic instruments, especially when acting
alone and in response to short-term export demand.
The sector may already be mining the fisheries
resource of the poorer countries for the benefit of
northern markets, and undervaluing the product.
Viewed from global environmental and equity
perspectives, this amounts to a comprehensive
“fail/fail” situation.
The fifth factor in the approach to better fisheries
management relates to the power of the market
demand for fish and seafood products to induce
fisheries’ managers to comply with prescribed codes
of practice.
It is in this respect that ecolabelling, which is a
process of placing seals of approval on products
that are deemed to have fewer negative impacts on
the environment than functionally or competitively
similar products, has emerged as an important issue
in developing countries’ fisheries. Such schemes
appeal to enlightened self-interest; fishing in a
sustainable manner will be rewarded. The
opportunities that ecolabelling present to those
developing country producers willing to meet the
sustainability requirements are (i) increased value
added to existing products; (ii) greater penetration
into existing markets, and opportunities to increase
2 Factors in an Overall Approach for Better Management
4 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
or maintain market share in a competitive
environment; and (iii) improved avenues for
attracting capital investment and joint ventures.
Ecolabelling has thus been seen as a means of
providing incentives to the fishing community,
governments, international agencies and local
authorities to improve the aspects of fisheries
management for which they are responsible
(Nordic Technical Working Group on Eco-labelling
Criteria 2000).
However, governments, producers and civil society
groups in developing countries have expressed
concerns about ecolabelling. These concerns
include: 1) the lack of both transparency and
opportunity for participation in the development
of product standards; 2) the potential use of
ecolabels to protect domestic industries, restrict
market access and erode the national
competitiveness of those less able to meet or afford
foreign labelling and certification standards; 3) fear
of high compliance costs with transnational or
foreign ecolabelling schemes; 4) institutional factors
that may preclude developing countries from being
sufficiently organized to institute effective,
independent management schemes and achieve
certifiable status; and 5) the potential for criteria
for certification to influence the impact of the
schemes on countries with differing environmental
and socio-economic conditions and interests –
especially given the wide gaps in income and in
environmental conditions between developed and
developing countries.
The need to understand and clarify the link between
ecolabelling and environmental sustainability calls
for systematic study of the ecolabelling schemes
and their impacts on producer and consumer
countries. The credibility of ecolabelled products,
assessment of process versus performance schemes,
technical and financial assistance possibilities for
developing countries, and trade-related issues, are
all areas where substantial gains from research
could be made.
This paper examines and updates the status of
ecolabelling as an incentive-based mechanism for
sustainable natural resource management. The
feasibility and possible impacts of implementing
ecolabelling and certification schemes for fisheries
management in developing countries, particularly
in Asia, is also discussed. There is also some analysis
of the appropriate placement of ecolabelling
schemes in relation to other current initiatives to
make fisheries management sustainable.
First party labelling schemes: these are established by individual companies based on their own product standards.
The standards might be based on criteria related to the specific environmental issues known to informed consumers
through the media or advertising. This form of ecolabelling can also be referred to as “self declaration”.
Second party labelling schemes: these are established by industry associations for their members products. The
members set certification criteria, sometimes by drawing upon external expertise from academia and environmental
organizations. Verification of compliance is achieved through international certification procedures within the
industry, or through employment of external certifying companies.
Third party labelling schemes: these are usually established by an initiator (public or private) independent from the
producers, distributors and sellers of the labelled products. Products supplied by organizations, or resources that
are certified, are labelled to inform consumers that the product was produced in an “environmentally friendly”
fashion. The label (seal) is typically licensed to a producer and may appear on, or accompany, a product derived from
a certified fishery or producer. Producers are usually expected to track the “chain of custody” of their products in
order to ensure that the products derived from the certified producer are in fact those so labelled.
Box 1: Categories of Ecolabelling Schemes (after Wessells et al. 2001, with fisheries taken as a generic example)
Ecolabelling was first recognized internationally at
the 1992 United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio
de Janeiro. This type of certification, originally
defined simply as “making relevant environmental
information available to appropriate consumers”
(USEPA 1993), is meant to provide consumers with
the opportunity to express their environmental/
ecological concerns through choice of products.
Ecolabels are thus “seals of approval” given to
products that are deemed to have fewer negative
impacts on the environment than functionally or
competitively similar products (Deere 1999). The
consumers’ preferences are expected to result in
price and/or market share differentials between
ecolabelled products and those that either do not
qualify to be ecolabelled or come from producers
who do not seek to obtain such labelling. The label
is obtained through a certification process based
on a set of criteria. Potential price and/or market
share differentials provide the economic incentive
for firms to seek certification of their products
(MRAG/IIED/Soil Association 1999).
3.1 The Different Types of Label
Ecolabels have been used for some time in
national programs (e.g. the German “Blue Angel”
label dating from 1977); as intergovernmental
standards (including Codex Alimentarius
Commission, the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES), the European Union “green” label,
the products of the International Standards
Organization (ISO), the World Trade Organization
(WTO) Committee on Trade and the
Environment); as key elements of environmental
initiatives of non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) (such as Eco-UK, Forest Stewardship
Council (FSC), Marine Stewardship Council
(MSC), Scientific Certification Systems (SCS));
and industry-led initiatives such as IFOAM (the
International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements) (reviewed in Dawkins 1995; FAO
1998). The majority of these initiatives aim to
certify products produced by energy – or
environment-saving processes, or to set standards
for these. Ecolabelling schemes are generally
classified into three categories (see Box 1).
Certification is most credible to consumers and
other stakeholders when supported by third party
review. In this paper, the discussions of the Forestry
Stewardship Council (FSC), the Marine Stewardship
Council (MSC) and the Marine Aquarium Council
(MAC) all concern third party labelling schemes.
Industry-led certification schemes are discussed
with reference to aquaculture certification (section
5.4.2). The ISO is the largest standard-setting body
and its technical committee (TC 207) has helped
develop principles and environmental standards
(the so-called 14000 series – or revised as the 14020
environmental management series). There has,
however, been some criticism that “in the design
of some schemes either governments, some sectors
of the industry or environmental interest groups
have not had the opportunity to express their
interests” (Deere 1999; FAO 1998). It is worth
noting that the standards are largely process oriented
and do not provide individual performance
measures against which environmental changes
could be estimated. While ISO 14000 series
products have been used as background information
in the development of criteria and certification
processes for other products, they do not constitute
internationally agreed environmental standards in
their own right.
3.2 Developing Programs of
Developing programs of certification typically
involves: a) the development of principles and
criteria; b) the development of guidelines for
management and competent means for third
party certification and life cycle control
; and
c) effective promotion of the label.
In some cases, the object of certification is not
the product per se; rather the object is the
processes and production method (or PPM, see
section 5.1), such as harvesting, used in the
development of the product. With certification
of PPMs, the chain of custody of the product,
from the site of the environmentally favorable
harvesting through its life cycle to eventual sale,
is critically important. The labelled product
must be held distinguishable from similar but
uncertified products in a reliable manner
through its entire life cycle. This is particularly
important in the transfer of live organisms (e.g.
fish for the aquarium trade). The requirements
for the post-harvest handling of ecolabelled
products are in this sense similar to those for
products that are labelled for other reasons,
such as food safety. While there are successful
examples of product certification schemes for
fish (see Wallis, section 4, in Wessells et al.
2001) they tend to be for high value products,
such as tuna, for which the final market price
makes such schemes feasible. Part of the
credibility of certifiers is their ability to
demonstrably manage the chain of custody; for
some commodities, such as timber products,
this is quite difficult in certain markets (FAO
Elliot (2000) has developed a useful set of
criteria to assess certification schemes (see Box
2) from a review of the common requirements
given for such schemes in the literature. As
discussed below, ecolabelling and certification
of fisheries is relatively recent, and assessment
by the Elliot criteria will be appropriate until
such time as formal impact measures become
applicable. However, ecolabelling of forest
products was initiated in the 1980s, with the
first scheme (the United States Smart Wood
Program) introduced in 1990. It provides the
most relevant precedent for ecolabelling in
6 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Life cycle control (or life cycle analyses, LCAs), are assessments of sustainability that consider all phases of a product – production, processing, use and
3.3 Some Key Outcomes from the
Development of Forestry
The history and development of forestry certification
has been extensively reviewed – see for example
Elliot (2000) and FAO (1998). However, over two
decades of experience with forestry certification
schemes (and 5 to 7 years of ecolabelling for forest
products) has resulted in only a very small volume
of forest products being covered by the schemes.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a
membership-based, non-governmental organization
was formally established in 1994, with the objective
of promoting such schemes. Initially the scope was
restricted to tropical timber but this was
subsequently expanded to include temperate and
boreal forest products. As of November 2002, 462
forest management certificates had been issued,
covering forests in 56 countries, with a total forest
area of over 31 million hectares (FSC website, 2002).
This breadth and depth of data allow us to draw
some general observations on the requirements for
success of ecolabelling in a renewable natural
resource system.
Credibility, coverage and cost – The continuing growth
of certification and ecolabelling schemes reflects
the appeal of these mechanisms to both
environmental and market imperatives. However,
the number and variety of such schemes for forestry
and timber products may cause consumer confusion
and affect the credibility of the processes generally.
Although the desirability for common frameworks
has been recognized, international efforts to achieve
them have experienced difficulties often because
existing schemes have taken a defensive stance
vis-à-vis their model for certification and labelling.
Clearly it would have been preferable to have
globally agreed frameworks in place at an earlier
Currently, regional and national schemes exist in
most continents, particularly in north, central and
south America and in Europe. The African Timber
Organisation has pursued an intergovernmental,
regional ecolabelling initiative in Africa, based on
regional criteria and guidelines. Levels of
responsiveness “to certification in general and
appreciation of FSC in particular, are at low levels
in Asian countries – a fact reflected in the
insignificant FSC membership and lack of demand
for FSC certification in the region” (FSC 2000). In
Asia, ecolabelling initiatives are under way in
Indonesia and Malaysia, with relatively minor areas
certified in other countries. As up to 80 per cent of
tropical timber is consumed in producing countries,
and as a significant share of traded products are
exported to markets where consumers are not, at
present, very responsive to ecolabelling programs
•Credible to consumers
•Comprehensive [includes all types of (fisheries) and (fish) products]
•Objective and measurable
•Reliable (in terms of assessment results)
Independent from parties with vested interests
•Voluntary in participation
•Equitable treatment, non-discriminatory in trade impact
•Acceptable to the involved parties
Institutionally adapted to the local conditions
•Cost effective
•Transparent (to allow external judgment)
•Goal-oriented and effective in reaching objectives
•Practical and operational
•Applicable to all scales of operation
Box 2 : Criteria against which to judge the effectiveness of certification schemes (after Elliot 2000)
(e.g. Japan and China), the ability of certification
programs to improve management of tropical forests
is expected to remain limited in the medium term,
and restricted to countries having important markets
in Europe and North America (FAO 1998).
Certification costs do not vary significantly with
the scale of the company. As a result, certification
costs are proportionally higher for small companies
than for large ones. Factors that create difficulty in
determining actual costs include uncertainty about
the starting point of the activity to be certified,
competition between certifiers, and difficulties in
distinguishing external (system-related) and internal
(management-related) costs. At the global and
regional levels, the premiums for certified forest
products are estimated in the range of 5 to 10 per
cent (FAO 1998).
Indicators – The number of international initiatives,
guidelines, principles and criteria for forestry
certification provides scope for confusion between
schemes and between national and local scales of
application. International agencies such as CIFOR
(the Center for International Forestry Research)
have both reviewed and distilled the criteria and
indicators (C & I) of different schemes, and have
developed guidelines (taking into account the major
initiatives) for developing, testing and selecting
criteria for sustainable forest management at the
level of the forest management unit. In general, the
guidelines place heavy emphasis on: (i) legal
frameworks for defining who has rights of access
and use; (ii) the ability to finance forest
management; (iii) specific biodiversity issues within
the maintenance of ecosystem integrity; and (iv)
the forest as a component of users’ livelihoods and
source of forest products. Recent developments in
designing C & I for both natural forest systems and
sustainable plantation management have been
slower than expected, partly because the C & I were
thought by forest/plantation managers to be too
theoretical and insufficiently tailored to their specific
and practical needs. In the case of plantations, this
has been overcome by adapting and linking an
existing set of C & I with a code of practice for
plantation management (Poulsen et al. 2001).
The role of governments in certification – Certification
and ecolabelling are attempts to change the
international agenda for environmental
management, or at least increase the rate at which
it is implemented. They are essentially, therefore,
key components of a policy development process
in which international agreements and instruments,
governments, the environmental NGOs, forest
communities, and the forest products industry all
play significant roles. However, several international
coalitions have built up in support of different
points of view (Elliot 2000). One particular
coalition, including international NGOs such as
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Worldwide
Fund for Nature (WWF), are supportive of
performance-based certification in general and the
FSC in particular. Others have supported a
management systems approach, in which the forest
operations to be certified set their own performance
standards after a stakeholder consultation process.
Government acceptance, either active or induced,
is obviously key to the ultimate success of
certification globally
as governments have ultimate
responsibility for the resources of the nation state
and those shared with others. However, the
willingness and capacity of governments to join in
and support such schemes varies with their point
of view, with the state of development of the country
in question, and with the degree of government
involvement in the sector.
Learning by doing – It is also clear that the relative
“The panel accepted that Governments have a critical role in promoting effective sustainable forest management systems. However, because certification
has developed thus far (1997) as a voluntary private initiative, different views expressed on the roles of Governments and intergovernmental institutions
in the development or regulation of certification systems require further clarification. In considering possible roles for governments, bearing in mind the
fact that certification is a market driven process, distinctions should be made between the roles of governments as regulators, as promoters of public policy
and, in some countries, as forest owners. Governments, however, have a role in encouraging transparency, full participation of interested parties, non-
discrimination and open access to voluntary certification schemes.” United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESC). 1997. Report of the Fourth
Session of the Ad hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), Commission on Sustainable Development, Report E/CN.17/1997/12. United Nations,
New York, NY.
8 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
advancement of certification in some countries
would not have resulted without significant
coalitions existing and attempting to put such
schemes in place. Some schemes have been partial
implementation exercises and have delivered
uncertain broader impacts on forest management
in the countries concerned. In Indonesia, for
example, certification alone is unlikely to have an
impact on deforestation in the country (Elliot 2000).
However, generally, the process of developing
certification standards and other elements of the
program offers opportunities for policy-oriented
learning. Elliot (op. cit.) argues that, without this
continued learning, the impact of certification on
forest management is likely to be localized and
limited. The future of certification, therefore,
depends on providing suitable conditions for
learning to occur.
3.4 The Marine Stewardship Council
The major initiative in fisheries ecolabelling has
been the establishment of the Marine Stewardship
Council (MSC) in 1997 (see Box 3). The MSC was
initially formed by the WWF (following its
experience with the operation of the similar
Forestry Stewardship Council) and the company
Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of seafood
(Sultan 1998). This alliance between an
environmental NGO and a commercial company
involved in fisheries trade illustrates the emerging
tendency, in a world where civil society groups
(made up of the community and, possibly, NGOs)
and multinational companies are prominent and
influential, for environmental policy initiatives to
be set outside the government sector (Elliot 2000).
The MSC initiative was given impetus by the
declaration that Unilever, from 2005, would buy
only fisheries products from sustainable sources.
Although operating independently since 1999 –
neither founding organization sits on the Board
of the MSC or provides core funding – the genesis
of the MSC is a factor in how it is perceived in
developed and developing countries, irrespective
of the merits of its activities (Braaten 1999; Kurien
2000; May 2000).
The Western Australian rock lobster fishery is
Australia’s most valuable single species fishery and
a major export commodity (MRAG/IIED/Soil
Association 2000), and the Alaskan salmon and
New Zealand hoki fisheries are also major, export-
targeted fisheries. The other certified fisheries are
relatively small, with modest export opportunities.
The driving force for these fisheries obtaining
certification was to secure and increase the market
share of niche market commodities. Certification
was sought in general on the basis of existing
management regimes, rather than to improve
fisheries management per se (see discussion of the
hoki fishery below).
3.5 The Example of the Hoki Fishery
It is informative to review the public reports of the
hoki fishery certification
, as they illustrate the
implementation of the MSC review process.
However, this fishery provides a particular example
of how effective national fisheries management
helps achieve certification (Box 5).
New Zealand is, of course, a developed, island
nation sitting in temperate and sub-temperate
latitudes. It has recognized its dependence upon
fisheries and coastal and marine affairs and has
reduced the potential conflicts and complexity of
its fisheries by reducing, over time, the number of
fishing boats owned by foreign states. “Hoki” is the
local name for Macruronus novaezelandiae, also
known as blue grenadier, a member of the Merluccid
hake family (FishBase 2002). It is a highly
commercial species, with the Total Allowable
Commercial Catch (TACC) set at 200,000 tonnes
(for the 2001-fishing season). Two major stocks are
recognized around New Zealand but, although
there are environmental growth rate differences,
they are considered genetically uniform. Stocks are
In this case the certifying agency was SGS (Societe Generale de Surveillance): SGS Public Summary Report (of New Zealand’s Commercial Hoki Fishery)
pp 70, and Hoki scoring guideline V2, p. 25, Document MAD-06, Dated 12 March 2001: see
10 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Box 4a : MSC certified fisheries by end November 2002
- Alaska Salmon in the US
- Burry Inlet Cockles in South Wales, UK
- Hoki in New Zealand
-South West Mackerel Hand Line Fishery in the UK (a component of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock)
- Thames Herring in the UK
- Western Australia Rock Lobster in Australia
The MSC is "seeking to harness consumer purchasing power to generate change and promote environmental
stewardship of the world’s most important renewable resource" – i.e. fish. The MSC has developed an environmental
standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. It uses a product label to reward environmentally responsible
fisheries management and practices. There are three principles to the MSC standard, supported by a number of
criteria in each case (see Annex and the MSC Web site The principles consider the condition of the
stock, the impact of the fishery on the marine ecosystem, and the fishery management systems. A certification
methodology was developed and published in March 2001. To determine performance and evaluate a fishery against
the principles and criteria, third party assessors (certifiers) follow a substantial process, and apply a standard scoring
process. Public Certification reports are also posted on the MSC Website. To date (November 2002) six fisheries have
been certified (see Box 4a), a further eight are undergoing full assessment for certification (Box 4b) and approximately
20 fisheries are at various other early stages of assessment. A number of developing country fisheries have also
expressed interest in obtaining certification (Box 4c).
"To accomplish its objectives, the MSC proposed a new approach to change the incentive structure so that benefits
accrue to the fishers, fish processors, traders, retailers and consumers in adopting a more responsible and sustainable
approach to fisheries exploitation. At the center of the MSC is a set of principles and criteria for sustainable fishing
which is used in an independent assessment as a standard by which an independent assessment team evaluates a
"Using its expertise, the assessment team develops a set of performance indicators to be consistent with the intent
and extent of the MSC principles and criteria.
"The MSC methodology for fishery evaluations utilises a decision support process known as AHP (Analytical Hierarchy
Process) to assist the team weight and score sets of performance indicators and criteria within each individual
principle. Using this method, compliance with each MSC principle is evaluated independently. Each principle is
considered independent of the others and, to be certified, a fishery must obtain a rating consistent with meeting
compliance with the MSC principles and criteria. If the fishery does not meet compliance on any one of the three
MSC principles, the fishery is not recommended for certification."
During assessment of the fishery, and evaluation of the fishery management, the assessors can draw the attention
of the management entity to requirements through Corrective Action Requests or CARs, which are defined as:
Major CARs, which must be addressed and re-assessed before certification can proceed. They indicate a rating under
Pass for one of the MSC principles or a rating of under Minimum for one of the criteria;
Minor CARs, which do not preclude certification, but should be preferably addressed and will be checked at the next
surveillance visit. A minor CAR indicates a rating between Minimum and Pass for one of the MSC Criteria and under
Pass for one of the performance indicators.
The MSC is trying to extend the number of certifiers globally.
Box 3 : The Marine Stewardship Council is an independent, global, non-profit organization based in the UK
New Zealand introduced a quota management system in 1986. This system controls the total commercial catch from
all the main fish stocks found within New Zealand’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
There are numerous statutes governing the conduct of fisheries and other uses of New Zealand’s coastal waters.
Chief amongst these is the New Zealand Fisheries Act of 1996, which encompasses the precautionary principle and
the concept of ecosystem effects of fishing. It also recognizes existing statutes on Maori fishing rights and the
allocation of fisheries resources to a representative body of Maori.
In order to meet the requirements of the assessors, many of the responses of the HFMC referenced existing fisheries
legislation in New Zealand.
The Government decides annually on the total allowable catch (TAC) for each fish stock on the basis of scientific
information and consultation. For the hoki fishery, such stock assessments are carried out with the help of independent
trawl surveys and acoustic soundings.
The commercial stocks have been regularly assessed since 1986; there is good background knowledge and there
are extant models of the fishery. The government conducts or commissions such assessments and charges industry
for the costs.
Customary (non-commercial Maori) and recreational fishing are not directly governed by the Quota Management System
(QMS), but are regulated using input controls. Both customary and recreational catch levels are estimated before setting
the TACC (total allowable commercial catch) for each quota species. This is the total quantity of each fish stock that the
commercial fishing industry can catch that year. The TACC for each fishery comprises individual transferable quota (ITQs).
Fishing and fishing boats are monitored by satellite and by an industry-based program of observers. Occasional
passage of boats and planes of the New Zealand Force help monitoring and compliance
Box 5 : Major advantages conferred by New Zealand’s fisheries management structure on the process of certification
(Sources: Ministry of Fisheries, New Zealand 2002a; Straker et al. 2002)
Box 4c : Fisheries from Developing Countries currently seeking MSC certification
–Galapagos Lobster and Mixed Fishery in Ecuador
–Ceara Lobster Fishery in Brazil
the Artisanal Hake Fishery in Chile
the Pha Nga Bay Mixed Fishery in Thailand
the Sulu Sea Blue Crab Fishery in the Philippines
Box 4b : Fisheries undergoing assessment as of end November 2002 (as per the MSC), the WWF (op. cit.) include
some additional small-scale fisheries not included in the MSC list
- Alaska Pollock Fishery in the US
- Banco Chinchorro Atoll Spiny Lobster Fishery in Mexico (certification has been discontinued)
- British Columbia Salmon in Canada
- Mexican Baja California Spiny Lobster in Mexico
- North Sea Herring Fishery (under the auspices of the pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association)
- Hake in South Africa
- South Georgia Toothfish in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (administered by the UK)
- Loch Torridon Nephrops Fishery in Scotland, UK
It would be fair to say that New Zealand’s fisheries are the envy of many OECD countries: New Zealand claims the ratio of net government expenditure on
fisheries management to the annual landed value of the fishery resource to be 4 per cent, compared with an OECD country average of 17 per cent for those
with credible management regimes (Ministry of Fisheries, New Zealand, 2002b).
fished by bottom and mid-water trawls. Such
industrial fishing boats are largely in excess of 42
meters. There is relatively little by-catch, and
incidental by-catch of sea birds and such icon
species as seals are well documented.
Few developing countries can presently hope to
match such management sophistication (with the
exception perhaps of those conducting tuna fisheries
though regional consortia and agreements). New
Zealand has taken steps to define access and
property rights, to accommodate minority
communities with traditional rights into national
schemes for entry and allocation, and has in place
legislation to commence the adoption of an
ecosystem approach to fisheries management.
Nevertheless, the weaknesses detected in the hoki
fishery management by the certification assessors
focus on the lack of an environmental impact
assessment, including ecosystem impacts. The
weaknesses were identified in several CARs (or
Corrective Action Requests in the terminology of
the MSC - see Box 3) and, while they did not prevent
certification, they did require the Hoki Fishery
Management Company (HFMC) to have revised
management plans by the time of a follow-up audit
conducted 16 months after certification. The audit
led to some parts of the revised plan being accepted,
and additional minor CARs and review dates being
developed. The certificate of sustainable fisheries
has a five-year lifetime.
The minor CARs directed to the fishery related
largely to the environmental/ecosystem effects of
fishing, the need for better recognition of spatial
structure rather than merely biomass estimates in
management, and effective implementation of a
comprehensive management system.
There was de facto acknowledgement that the
effects of bottom trawling in the relevant ecosystems
are insufficiently known: “Information is not
sufficient on the distribution of habitats, major
assemblage types and the natural functions and
trophic relationships among species in the
midwater and benthic ecosystems where the fishery
operates”. This highlights the need for a transfer
of even one of the best-monitored fisheries from
a single stock approach to an ecosystem based
approach, as well as the potential for ecolabelling
and certification to be a force in that direction.
However, it could be argued that the country was
already embarked on such a course, as such shifts
are presaged in the New Zealand Fisheries Act.
(Similar efforts are being made in some other
countries, see section 6.2). New Zealand is currently
extending the quota system to other species, and
seeking to ascertain better the effects on non-
commercial and icon species and to increase
stakeholder accountability (Ministry of Fisheries,
New Zealand 2002b). Thus, the certification process
seems to have raised awareness of the practicalities
of the new paradigm, and hastened the engagement
of the commercial fishing industry in these
In the light of the challenges faced by small-scale,
multi-species fisheries in tropical, developing
countries, it might seem perverse to dwell on the
challenges faced by a well-managed fishery in a
developed country when gaining certification. So
that certification as currently formulated is not
simply seen as a confirmation of the status quo in
fisheries, it is necessary to examine more widely
the equity, social and ecological correlates of the
potential introduction of fisheries certification
schemes, particularly in developing countries.
12 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
MSC Fishery Surveillance Report (of the New Zealand Commercial Hoki Fishery), Report No. MAD-43, p. 9, dated 22nd July 2002: see
The MSC principles and criteria have been developed
generally (based on the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Code
of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries). They could,
therefore, be interpreted more as a fundamental
statement of what sustainable fisheries should be,
with the expectation that the individual nature of
fisheries can be accommodated through engaging
in the process of certification (and operationalizing
the standard in terms of performance indicators
and scoring goalposts) irrespective of the scale of
the fishery and region. However, the differences
between the industrial off-shore fishing of single
species in higher latitudes, and the fisheries of
tropical, developing countries are substantial. Small-
scale fisheries in the tropics are characterized by
open access and overlapping multi-species fisheries,
fishing with numerous gears, and using a multitude
of landing sites. The range of operation, the
sequential operation between fisher groups, and
the subsistence orientation of some aspects of the
production, differ markedly from industrial fisheries
with which they coexist and compete (Panayotou
1982). The coexistence of commercial, municipal
and artisanal fishers, and informal distribution and
marketing of the catch for some fisheries, mean
that current catches are often not properly monitored
and reported. These differences in complexity, in
current regulation (or its lack), and in the types of
direct social dependence of fishers on the resource,
have led those directly involved with small-scale
fisheries to question whether ecolabelling
certification in general, and the principles and
criteria espoused by the MSC initiative in particular,
can be meaningfully applied to these fisheries. If
the complexity, or other constraints, inherent in
developing country fisheries prevent such fisheries
from effectively meeting the standards, then
ecolabelling will be a marketing advantage open
to relatively few fisheries globally. If certification
and ecolabelling cannot really serve the needs of
the small-scale fisher they cannot be extended to
the global improvement of fisheries management.
4.1 Reactions to Ecolabelling and
the MSC Initiative
The critiques of ecolabelling and the MSC initiative,
as currently formulated, focus in five general areas:
a) legitimacy and credibility; b) a mismatch between
certification requirements and the reality of tropical
small-scale fisheries; c) potential distortions to
existing practices and livelihoods; d) equity and
feasibility; and e) perceived barriers to trade.
4.1.1 Legitimacy and Credibility
The MSC initiative is the only third party certification
scheme for ecolabelling sustainably managed
marine fisheries. As with any initiative, timing,
context and the perceptions of stakeholders affect
whether or not good ideas are translated into new
paradigms, practices and results. To be a truly global
force in the improved sustainability of fisheries it
must apply in some form or other to the different
types of fisheries around the world. Developing
countries are the biggest exporters of fish, largely
to northern markets; their fisheries also meet
national and local needs for food security and
livelihood. The inclusivity of the group that
originally framed the MSC principles and criteria,
and the group’s ability to speak for developing
country fishers and fisheries have been questioned
(Mathew 2000, Kurien 2000). Certainly, the criteria
and principles as initially formulated, although
scientifically attractive, are not easily applied to the
diversity of fisheries in developing countries. Indeed,
Asian countries generally have reacted negatively
to the MSC initiative on this basis, and on the
grounds of the legitimacy of an NGO dictating
terms to national governments that have sovereignty
over their resources (SEAFDEC 2001). The early
liaison with Unilever has raised fears that the
initiative was motivated by the requirements of the
retail trade, and not by true consumer pressure for
eco-friendly produce – especially given that the
latter has yet to be mobilized in some countries
4 Certification Applied to Developing Country Fisheries
(Wessells et al. 2001). Although Unilever is not still
represented on the Board of the MSC (May 2000),
this perception still exists in developing countries
(Kurien 2000). While in the case of forestry, the
catalytic role of NGOs in setting environmental
policy has been noted, the public perceptions of
the NGO partner, WWF, and its activities in areas
unrelated to fisheries, have caused collateral mistrust
of the certification initiative (for example, in
Scandinavia, Braaten 1999). For these concerns to
be assuaged, implementation of the certification
scheme must be seen to result in better fisheries
management more broadly. The scheme must take
on issues of social equity, and not simply increase
the price of high valued products in distant markets.
4.1.2 The Mismatch between Certification
Requirements and the Reality of
Tropical Small-Scale Fisheries
If the certification of fisheries in developed countries
accomplished to date (see section 3.4) was itself a
trial of feasibility of the certification concept, it is
now pertinent to ask about the feasibility and
consequences of extending this experience to
tropical, developing country fisheries. Even for
single species fisheries, substantial scientific effort
and financial outlay are required for adequate stock
assessment complying with the MSC guidelines.
Compliance with catch reporting guidelines alone
would be hard to develop, maintain and finance
in many developing countries. If only export-driven
fisheries are likely to meet these costs, the MSC
initiative is unlikely to influence the bulk of fisheries
in Asia, which fish for domestic markets. Stock-
based assessment, with heavy data requirements,
cannot be the only basis for assessing and
determining labels. More indicator-based
assessment tools will be needed and will have to
be developed for these purposes. The MSC has
commissioned expert advice to help develop
processes of assessment for data-deficient fisheries
(P. Degnbol, pers. comm.).
Certification of fisheries may help improve
awareness and marketability of the product but it
will not be, and is not claimed to be (Schmidt
1998), the only requirement for improved fisheries
management. “Without addressing the issues of
access or property rights to the coastal seas, product
labels alone will be non-starters for achieving
sustainability” (Kurien 2000). Logically, at the
present time, certification of fisheries is limited to
fisheries “that can” (Braaten 1999). National
governments must take the steps to control access
and establish shared management in order to make
certification feasible for other fisheries. Means must
be found to license the different user groups,
including artisanal fishers, who exploit the fishery.
Granting certification to one group in a fishery
could potentially disenfranchise the poorer partners.
Furthermore, if this were seen to be done under
the pressure of external forces, it could undermine
government initiatives. Following deliberations
amongst key Southeast Asian nations (SEAFDEC
2002a), member governments were urged to
“anticipate and address” the potential impacts of
ecolabelling of ASEAN fish and fishery products.
It was suggested that regional guidelines and criteria
be developed, and a technical forum relating to
implementation, assessment and certification
processes be considered (SEAFDEC 2002b).
Although developing countries are not expected to
develop the level of monitoring that has been
developed through government legislation for the
hoki fishery in New Zealand, the existence of a
monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system
appropriate to the nature and scale of the fishery
with tenure arrangements, are essential pre-requisites
for the award of an ecolabel (Wessells et al. 2001).
In recognition of these issues, the WWF is attempting
to test certification methodologies for small-scale
fisheries at a number of sites. The approach, which
aims to maximize the use of local knowledge in
the certification process, depends on partnerships
with fishers and other stakeholders to assess the
state of the fishery. An earlier critique suggested
that there had been only moderate initial success
(MRAG/IIED/Soil Association 2000). In its account
of the project, the WWF report (WWF 2002)
identifies two dilemmas – the data dilemma and
the management dilemma. The data dilemma, both
for the MSC certification process and for fisheries
management in general, is how to obtain the
scientific information required to assess the
14 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
biological stock of the species in question, when
community fisheries deal in traditional, local
knowledge based on areas. In the case of the blue
crab fishery, Sulu Sea, Philippines, there have been
problems with conducting a full stock assessment.
While the stock is perceived to be unique, the
genetic analysis, which would have determined
uniqueness, was too costly for the community to
have conducted. The same dilemma extends to
management, as community-based fisheries tend
to rely on local traditional knowledge in their
management rather than on conventional western
scientific methods. Ways need to be found to
combine the two knowledge systems productively.
This is unlikely to happen immediately, as practical
experience will be needed to understand how well
traditional measures can deal with both stock-
related and ecosystem expectations of management.
Improved explanations will also have to be included
in the packaging of science-based indicators to
encourage their adoption. This will require both
time and money and the sharing of best practices.
4.1.3 Potential Distortions of Existing
Practices and Livelihoods
National fisheries management plans are developed
to address a number of goals. These include ensuring
sustainability of the resource, contributing to
national food security and to employment,
livelihoods and earning foreign exchange through
exports. The ecolabelling approach, by focusing on
the perceived international demand for properly
managed fisheries, and processing, moves incentives
and pressures for compliance into the international
Although the declared aim is to certify fisheries and
not single species, there are technical and market
issues to consider for multi-species fisheries if
ecolabelling becomes successful. The multi-species,
multi-gear nature of tropical fisheries, and the need
to meet ecosystem monitoring requirements, make
it necessary to develop life history and stock
assessment knowledge and monitoring capacity for
more than one species, even when only one (high
value) component of the fishery is targeted for
export. This is a daunting challenge in terms of
finance and monitoring. If the fishery, rather than
a species within it, is the unit of certification, the
additional costs of certification potentially increase
the costs of fishing for all species. If a price premium
can be charged in the export market, the high value
exported component of the fishery will potentially
recoup some of the outlay. However, the impact
on the domestic market price of other species
consumed locally is yet to be determined. The
market for virtually every seafood product has its
own subtleties based on taste and culture, traditional
availability, income class of the consumers, etc.
Currently, domestic markets in developing countries
are more sensitive to price than to environmental
considerations. They may not support price
premiums, or only certain sectors of the domestic
market would show willingness or capacity to pay
if costs were translated into increased prices. This
could exacerbate trends by which products (in some
cases the “national fish” e.g. kurau in Malaysia,
tuna in the southern Philippines) become
unaffordable in the local market or to some sectors
of consumers.
Conversely, the existence of a price differential may
bias fishing practices and effort and diminish the
sustainability of the fishery. This is the theoretical
outcome expected of certification and ecolabelling
in open-access or sub-optimally managed fisheries
(Gudmundsson and Wessels 2000). For ecolabelling
to function in support of sustainability, a realistic
price premium, efficient, limited-access
management and monitoring of the key biological
factors have to be developed in concert
(Gudmundsson and Wessels 2000).
It has been argued that where developing countries
are exporting single, high value species (such as
shrimp and tuna) caught through specific fisheries
(or as a result of aquaculture in the case of shrimp),
there will be no significant interaction with the
domestic market (MRAG/IIED/Soil Association
1999). This assertion needs to be validated in order
to examine both exclusion effects on other fisheries,
and issues related to by-catch (which is either
discarded or, in many developing countries and
given current price differentials, productively
utilized). There would seem to be a need to monitor
these trends and to assess the extent to which export
income, or returns to those granted the prerogative
to certify their products, offsets the possible
limitation of choice in domestic markets. Research
into the fate and marketability of those species in
multi-species fisheries for which there is no export
market is therefore required.
The supervision of the chain of custody will also
be problematic in small-scale fisheries in developing
countries because many different households or
groups are often concerned with post-harvest
processing. To reach export markets, the product
has to be sold into marketing chains within which
small-scale fishers have relatively little influence
on price transmission. If certification did have the
predicted effects in markets it would be likely to
reward middlemen and the post-harvest chain of
custody, but not necessarily the fisher (Kurien 2000;
SEAFDEC 2001). There is also potential for sales
to the export market to threaten the nutritional
security at the place of origin, and to displace
women or local groups who find employment
and play a central role in local fish marketing
(Kurien 2000).
Further, should ecolabelling become successful, the
development of large price differentials between
products may actually encourage the persistence of
markets for unsustainably fished products. This
could be referred to as the need to create “non-
leaky” consumer demand for ecolabelled products.
In the case, for instance, of marine aquarium fish
and the provision of fish to the live reef food fish
trade, multiple supplying countries and developed,
developing and transitional country markets for
these products complicate the implementation of
reliable certification schemes (Chan 2000). As long
as alternative markets exist for some of these
products, even if the second, local market is less
lucrative than the certified avenue, it is likely that
poor fishers will continue to exploit the resources,
perhaps even increasing effort, legally or illegally,
to make up for the lower market price in this
non-certified market
. Extensive market demand
studies, and continuing environmental education,
will be needed in all countries.
4.1.4 Equity and Feasibility
Equity is an issue in two ways. First, the criteria and
indicators set for certification should be equally
achievable by both developed and developing
country fisheries. If this is impractical, more flexible
approaches to certification will be required in order
to level the playing field and to lower the
apprehension of developing countries that
certification is just another potential barrier to trade
(c.f. the hazard analysis critical control point
[HACCP] legislation which has, through the
stringent requirements of the consumer countries,
in some cases limited the opportunities for
producing countries to reach northern markets).
The second way in which equity is an issue relates
to the inclusion of fishers in management units.
This is likely to be difficult because most quota-
run systems are dominated by the richest
stakeholders (but see the example of the New
Zealand national fisheries legislation [3.5 above],
which has negotiated provisions for the inclusion
of minority groups). Multi-species fisheries are
likely to become the target of international pressure
for licensing to ensure that the methods of
production are commensurate with sustainable
fisheries management, rather than the commercial
utilization of the highest value species. In this case,
artisanal fishers, who produce around 40 per cent
of the catch in these fisheries in developing
countries, must be adequately recognized and
compensated. Information is required on who
benefits from these schemes in order to establish
equitable principles for legitimate participants in
terms of a) access to licensing schemes, and b) the
sale of products.
Finally, there is the question of whether or not,
at the moment, it is feasible to enact and enforce
Unsustainable, illegal fishing already takes place in some regions and fisheries irrespective of ecolabelling and certification issues. For an alternative fishing
response under more coherent market conditions see section 5.5.
16 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
the certification of communities or their fishing
methods in small, developing countries, where
even current catches are not properly evaluated and
recorded. A too rapid adoption of the ecolabelling
approach might lead to “certified” products actually
being “labelled as certified” through inadequate or
illegal practices. There is clearly a need to monitor
and to demonstrate through research whether or
not, as countries move to adopt the FAO Code of
Conduct for Responsible Fisheries at the national
level, market-based certification can actually change
behavior at the fishery level.
Lack of financial (Mathew 2000) and institutional
capacity (Kuperan and Gardiner 2000) will hinder
the ability of developing country fishing
management units to undertake certification, or to
engage the necessary scientific expertise. Research
is still required on the feasibility of community-
based fisheries’ certification methods and protocols
(Kuperan et al. 2002; and see section 6.3).
Embarking on certification without a clear signal
that the market will bear the ecolabel price could
be foolhardy (Kurien, 2000; and see below).
Certification of whole fisheries will encompass
commercial and artisanal users, and the plan must
provide both groups with incentives, and rewards
for good practice. The MSC accords no special status
or recognition to any particular type of management
system, simply assessing de facto the efficiency of
the existing system to manage a fishery sustainably.
Furthermore, the MSC standard (under principle
3) requires that the legal and customary rights and
long-term interests of those dependent on the
fishery for their livelihoods must be observed.
However, if certification is too costly for developing
country fisheries, cost-effective alternatives for
products to reach markets could be evaluated.
Suggested alternatives have included fair trade
labelling schemes – which ensure that artisanal
fishers’ livelihoods are maintained and the fishers
are rewarded for non-destructive, environmentally
selective fishing methods; labels which promote
traditional fishing methods (as these are generally
considered to be less damaging than industrial
methods); and labels of geographic origin (Kurien
2000; Mathew 2000). Although attractive in essence,
the practicalities for such schemes still have to be
developed, and they run the risk of attracting similar
criticisms of arbitrariness and potential trade
infringements (see Deere, page 64 in Wessells et al.
2001 and section 5.1).
The fact that the responsiveness of consumers to
ecolabelling schemes varies greatly among regions
and countries is likely to create an incentive to
direct products from certified fisheries to eco-
sensitive markets, and products from uncertified
fisheries or uncertifiable chains of custody to eco-
insensitive markets. Most of the future expansion
in demand for fish and fishery products is expected
to arise in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where
consumers are presently not very responsive to
ecolabelling of fish and fishery products. Therefore,
it appears that, at least in the medium-term, the
extent to which ecolabelling can serve as a tool for
achieving sustainable fisheries on an international
scale may be limited (MRAG/IIED/Soil Association,
1999). While lack of consumer responsiveness may
slow the spread of environmental certification,
other potential drivers of certification might be the
need to attract international investment for fisheries
development, or the overt use of certification by
governments to reward conservation efforts.
4.1.5 Perceived Barriers to Trade
If the perception that certification will reward well-
managed fisheries regimes without making any
global impact on fisheries gains currency (Mathew
2000), then mistrust about the economic motivation
for ecolabelling will be raised in developing
countries. This will add to the general anxiety about
the globalization of trade and the gradual move
away from a more certain environment for trading
– in which tariffs and quotas are specified and clear
to all traders in advance – to a situation where a
product will be accepted or rejected for entry to a
country on the basis of standards and labels, for
which the standards are determined by the importer.
The determination of the standards, and the
imposition of the label, is often in the hands of
the more developed countries. This can lead to
more uncertainty in trade for marine products for
developing countries. The difficulties in establishing
and applying impartial and transparent criteria for
See also the anonymous summary, page viii. A roadmap for the future for fisheries and conservation, M.J. Williams (ed.) 1998. International Center for Living
Aquatic Resources Management, Philiphines and the ICUN - the World Conservation Union, Switzerland. ICLARM Conf. Proc. 56, 58p.
18 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
granting an ecolabel; problems of ownership and
control of the labelling schemes; the potential for
ecolabels to be used as a non-tariff barrier; and the
disproportionate rewards to those responsible for
the post-harvest production and export to the
detriment of the catching sector have been widely
expressed in debates on ecolabelling (see Deere
1999; SEAFDEC 2001). Dawkins (1995)
recommends that criteria for certification be
broadened both to include social criteria and the
identification of compatible financing vehicles –
which would better accord with the wider criteria
adopted in forestry certification (see sections 3.3
and 4.1.2 above). She cautions that the ultimate
size of the demand for ecolabelled products is a
factor in meeting social criteria in the supplying
countries. Should international markets remain
relatively small, and be supplied through a small
number of retail chains, the supply is more likely
to be subject to monopolistic practices at the
expense of small producers in exporting countries
(and see 1998
). Life cycle analysis should ensure
reliability for consumers and for producers in
exporting countries.
4.2 International Research Support
for the Improvement and
Extension of Labelling Schemes
On more than one occasion the FAO has convened
groups to evaluate the utility of product certification
and ecolabelling in fisheries. The expert groups
have remained divided (reported in Deere 1999;
FAO 1998), although the reports provide good case
histories of the pros and cons of ecolabelling, and
demonstrate that chain of command and product
labelling schemes are feasible when the stakes are
high – e.g. for tuna and Patagonian tooth fish (see
section 4 in Wessells et al. 2001). Governments
and fisheries representatives in Asia have expressed
reservations that ecolabelling can quickly be made
feasible and equitable for developing countries.
Substantial bodies of research in all categories
(biological, ecological, economic, social and policy)
are required to move the debate from what
ecolabelling cannot do, to what it might
productively do in the future as part of a general
set of integrated measures (see section 6).
Hamstrung by titles, the international community
should seek to progress the debate (Deere 1999)
through a focus on standards of all types that will
enhance good practice and trade.
5.1 Technical Barriers to Trade
The major developing country concerns about
environmental labels acting as barriers to trade
have led to several analyses of major international
declarations governing trade and the environment,
including relevant WTO agreements and the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as they
may affect labelled or certified products and
processes. This subject has been comprehensively
reviewed (see Deere, p. 58-65 in Wessells et al. 2001
and references therein, and Deere 1999) and the
salient points are given in Box 6.
Thus ecolabelling schemes that are mandated by
governments come clearly within the Technical
Barriers to Trade’s (TBT) rules on technical
regulations and other relevant rules of the WTO.
In contrast, voluntary ecolabelling schemes do not
appear to contravene existing multilateral trade
rules. But there is a caveat relating to the process
and production methods (PPMs) for a product.
PPMs include processes of production for which
certification might be sought because they lead to
the development of a product which is less
environmentally polluting (called product-related
PPMs). However, PPMs can also include a process
or method, such as the harvesting of natural
resources that might have positive or negative effects
on the environment in the production phase (these
are distinguished as non-product related PPMs).
These production externalities do not affect product
characterization (i.e. the consumer could not
distinguish fish produced by sustainable or
unsustainable harvesting methods). Rather, the
ecolabels invite consumers to discriminate, not on
the basis of product characteristics, but on the
(unseen) means of production. The power of
countries to make distinctions based on standards
and regulations pertaining to PPMs, which do not
show up in the physical characteristics of the
product, is currently hotly contested (Deere, op.
cit., and discussed below in section 5.2). While
open discussion of this point would obviously be
preferable, some governments have been reluctant
to engage in this debate on environmental PPMs
because they fear that further social considerations
(based for example on labor standards and human
rights) may further enhance discrimination. This
lack of clarity is an issue, as, in the case of fisheries,
PPM-based measures are clearly central to better
conservation and environmental management
(Downes and van Dyke 1998).
5.2 Conflicts over Trade, Environment
and Seafood Labels
There has been a series of judgments by the WTO
on the ability of nations to impose environmental
conditions or labels on internationally traded
seafood products. Although none involves
certification in the sense advanced by the MSC
(above), they do shed light on the evolving
treatment by the WTO of aspects of labelling of
products from the fisheries sector.
5.2.1 Dolphin-Free Tuna
The two tuna-dolphin disputes (WTO 1991 and
1994) collectively represent one of the major trade-
and-the-environment challenges to be faced by the
. They arose from the attempts of the US to
impose import embargos for yellow fin tuna on
countries that fish for tuna, particularly in the tuna
fisheries of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, using purse
seines in which there was substantial dolphin
by-catch. The first challenge was brought by Mexico,
as a primary tuna fishing nation and producer
There have been many analyses of the tuna-dolphin disputes. See Downes and Van Dyke (1998) for the conflict in relation to the wider trade law and
sustainable fisheries; and Kingsbury (1994), for an account that includes implications for the potential restructuring of international law to accommodate
such trade-environment issues.
5 Ecolabelling and International Trade
Principle 12 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development – “Trade policy measures for environmental
purposes should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on
international trade.”
The WTO Agreement, which directly addresses ecolabelling, is the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
The WTO Secretariat notes that “well designed eco-labelling programs can be effective instruments of environmental
policy” so long as the key requirement of non-discrimination between foreign and domestic products is honored
TBT differentiates “technical regulations” (mandatory requirements for products or related processes and production
methods PPMs) and “standards” (voluntary requirements for products or PPMs).
The rules of the TBT agreement, including its Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application
of Standards (the Code of Good Practice), prohibit both technical regulations and standards from discriminating
between domestic products and foreign products that are alike (the national treatment principle) and between “like
products” from different WTO Members (the “most-favored-nation” principle).
In the case of technical regulations, if a regulation is applied in accordance with a relevant international standard,
it is presumed not to create an unnecessary obstacle to trade.
Members must ensure that standardizing schemes operated at the national and international level comply with the
Code of Good Practice of the TBT.
The Code of Good Practice requires a standardizing body to make reasonable efforts to harmonize standards at the
international level.
The TBT has several provisions calling on countries to ensure transparency in the development and application of
standards. It also calls on developed countries to recognize the difficulties that developing countries may encounter
in the formulation and application of technical regulations and standards, and to provide advice and technical
assistance for their endeavor in this regard (TBT, Article 11). Developing country members are also to be provided
differential and more favorable treatment given their special development, financial and trade needs
(TBT Article 12).
Article XX (b) of the GATT permits trade actions that “are necessary to protect, humans, animal or plant life or health”.
Article XX (g) provides for actions “relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources if such measures
are made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption”. To qualify for any of
the exceptions, a measure must also satisfy the requirements of the chapeau to Article XX. WTO Ministerial Declaration
(Fourth Session, Doha, November 2001), in the work plan relating to Trade and Environment “instructs the Committee
on Trade and Environment…to give particular attention to: (i) the effect of environmental measures on market
access, especially in relation to developing countries, in particular the least-developed among them, and those
situations in which the elimination of trade restrictions and distortions would benefit trade, the environment and
development…(iii) labeling requirements for environmental purposes,” (para. 32).
20 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Box 6 : Major international instruments covering ecolabelling in relation to trade (summarized, in part, after
Deere, op. cit.)
affected by the ban. The second was brought by the
Netherlands and the European Commission, which
were affected as secondary exporters of tuna they
had imported from primary producing countries
that did not recognize the US measures. In both
cases the dispute panels found against the US
One test was whether Article XX of the GATT allowed
exceptions to the trading rules in order to protect
animal life or health. The 1994 judgment
determined that exceptions to Article XX did not
allow one state to take trade measures that can
work only by forcing other states to change policies
pursued within their own jurisdictions. Secondly,
the panels found that the US rules did not so much
regulate tuna as a product, but the PPM for the
product. As noted above, this remains a contentious
issue and affects clear adjudication on ecolabelling
schemes focused on PPM. Whether WTO judgments
on PPM are colored by the unilateral imposition
of bans based on the imposition of domestic PPM,
and would be more flexible if the PPM were
internationally codified criteria, has yet to be tested
(but see the judgment on sardines, in section 5.2.3).
Further, the findings in both cases were not taken
up by the GATT Council, so neither has direct legal
effect within the WTO/GATT system, and, despite
their notoriety, they are of uncertain precedence.
5.2.2 Turtle-Free Shrimp
In December 1995, The US Court of International
Trade ruled that, in line with section 609 of the US
Endangered Species Act, countries that trawl for
shrimp in waters where marine turtles occur must,
as of June 1996, be certified by the US government
to have equipped their vessels with turtle excluder
devices (or TEDs). TEDs had been mandatory on
US shrimp boats since December 1994. A request
was made by India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Thailand
to examine whether the US ban was in violation
of the United States’ WTO obligations. The basis
of the complaint was largely the opposition to the
extra-jurisdictional and unilateral application of
domestic law. A WTO dispute settlements panel
ruled in April 1998 that demanding TEDs on shrimp
trawlers violates the rules of the multilateral trading
system (Anon 1998). The judgment was
controversial and left the WTO open to claims that
it was insensitive to environmental issues. Upon
US appeal, the WTO Appellate Body sat and
delivered a verdict in October 1998, which still
found against the US embargo, but treated the case
more specifically rather than as a general
infringement of trading under the WTO (see account
by Shaffer 1998). The Appellate Body found seven
flaws in the United States’ application of section
609: namely, that (i) insisting that all members
adopt essentially the same policy as the United
States had an unjustifiably “coercive effect” on
policy decisions made by foreign governments; (ii)
the US did not ensure that its policies were
appropriate for the specific local and regional
conditions prevailing in other countries; (iii) even
where shrimp were caught using US-prescribed
methods, the United States still prohibited their
importation if they were caught in countries not
requiring the use of TEDs; (iv) the United States
did not seriously attempt to reach a multilateral
solution; (v) the United States discriminated among
WTO members by applying different “phase in”
periods during which they must require shrimp
trawlers to use TEDs; (vi) the United States made
far greater efforts to transfer the required TED
technology to countries in the Caribbean/Western
Atlantic region “than to other exporting counties,
including the appellees”; and (vii) the application
of the US measure was “arbitrary” in that the
certification process is not “transparent” or
“predictable”, and does not provide any “formal
opportunity for an applicant country to be heard
or to respond to any arguments that may be made
against it”.
This judgment appeared to satisfy only the
complainants, as the US believed the judgment to
be wrong, and the international and US
Despite the further development of the International Dolphin Conservation Programme for the Eastern Tropical Pacific, political wrangling between
environmental groups and the US executive and between the US and Mexico continues over these issues: see Anon (2000). The battle between environmental
co-operation and trade embargos flares up with the possibility of Tuna Dolphin III, BRIDGES (Cover story) Year 4, No. 6, (July-August 2000), p. 1- 2.
environmental lobby felt that it did not meet the
immediate needs for the conservation of turtles
(although scientific advice was received by the
Appellate Body that, in fact, TEDs were only a
partial solution to the endangerment of turtles).
However, observers have seen the judgment as an
encouragement to the adoption of transparent and
multilateral processes in the introduction of
environmental considerations into trade
negotiations to avoid further conflicts in the future
(Shaffer 1998), rather than as insensitivity on behalf
of the WTO to the plight of an endangered species.
While imposition of a requirement for certification
to avoid a trade embargo, and voluntary certification
as an incentive to increase market share through
ecolabelling, are qualitatively different (as are a
stick and a carrot), it is likely that developing
countries have the right to expect similar
forewarning, and transparency and assistance in
the implementation of international schemes by
which they may be initially disadvantaged.
5.2.3 A Sardine in Europe
Critics of fisheries certification and ecolabelling as
currently proposed have suggested that alternative
approaches, such as the adoption of fair trading
labels, or labels of geographic origin, could be
employed, perhaps accompanied by ancillary
information to demonstrate the product was
“environmentally friendly” (see section 4.1.5).
However, geographic labels can also be contentious
(and the WTO will continue to investigate these,
taking wine in Europe as a case in point: WTO
Secretariat 2001). Indeed, the means of labelling
of products for trade (irrespective of harvest
methods) can invite conflict.
The WTO Appellate Body delivered a landmark
decision on descriptive labelling in September 2002.
For the first time, a WTO member was held to be
in violation of its obligations under the WTO’s TBT
(Shaffer and Mosoti 2002). Peru challenged an EC
regulation that maintained that only the species
Sardina pilchardus Walbaum could be marketed in
the EC under the name sardines. Peruvian sardines
(Sardinops sagax) had been marketed in Germany
as “Pacific sardines”, a formula recognized by Codex
standard 94, of the Codex Alimentarius
Commission. Peru prevailed. The development of
the Peruvian case was supported by an interesting
coalition, including a Swiss-based Advisory Centre
on international law, and a major British NGO
(representing consumer associations), which was
allowed to provide a letter of support for Peru’s
position to the Appellate Body. This judgment
clearly argues in favor of the use or development
of internationally agreed standards for product
descriptions, and elevates the potential role of the
Codex in providing such agreed standards. Whilst
the rather abstract message of “from a sustainable
fishery” is currently all that is being suggested for
ecolabelling advocated by the MSC
, the adoption
of further types of descriptive labelling – that might
elicit more immediate identification with the
product by consumers – must also be carefully
developed to avoid them being viewed as arbitrary
or discriminatory by other producers.
All three of the above examples illustrate the
powerful responses generated by producers subject
to potential sanctions or exclusion from markets
for fish and sea food products, and are further
confirmation of the market forces which the MSC’s
ecolabelling scheme seeks to exploit.
5.3 New Evaluation of Rules for
Trade and the Environment
The thorny nexus of trade and environmental
legislation is taken up in the current work plan of
the WTO (see Box 6). In response to overwhelming
numbers of requests from developing nations, the
intention is to launch negotiations on the
relationship between existing WTO rules and specific
trade obligations set out in multilateral
The exact message that accompanies the MSC logo on products from certified fisheries is "This product comes from a fishery which meets the MSC’s Standard
for a sustainable and well-managed fishery".
22 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
environmental agreements. The negotiations will
address how WTO rules are to apply to WTO
members that are parties to environmental
agreements. As well as the harmonization of trade
rules with multilateral agreements, specific attention
will be given to ecolabelling. The Trade and
Environment Committee is to look at the impact
of ecolabelling on trade, and examine whether
existing WTO rules stand in the way of ecolabelling
policies. Parallel discussions are to take place in
the TBT Committee with the intention of identifying
rules to be clarified. Public and political perceptions
of ecolabelling are often blurred by being bundled
with superficially similar product labelling
matters e.g. the imposition of sanitary/phytosanitary
measures/hazard analysis critical control point
(SPS/HACCP) regulations – which then take
on a collective and often negative connotation
in relation to developing country trade. The
Ministerial declaration at Doha carefully separates
these issues
Also to be studied is the need “to clarify and
improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies,
taking into account the importance of this sector
to developing countries” (paragraph 28 op.cit.).
Fisheries subsidies are to be tackled not just as an
issue distorting trade (where they form a
component of the re-examination of Article VI of
GATT 1994 on Subsidies and Countervailing
Measures) but also from the perspective of
subsidies that contribute to environmental damage
by encouraging over-fishing (see WTO secretariat,
2001). These steps will improve clarity and the
position of developing countries in deciding their
next steps on ecolabelling. They also complement
the Declaration of the WSSD (2002), which makes
strong recommendations on the need to improve
the environmental effects of fishing, but say rather
little on its interactions with trade regimes
(FAO 2002).
5.4 Allied International and Industry
Initiatives Towards Certification
and Labelling in the Marine
Aquarium Trade and Aquaculture
While regional groupings and fisheries experts
from different backgrounds (e.g. SEAFDEC 2001,
2002a; Commission of the European Communities
2002; FAO 2000) have treated ecolabelling with
some caution, others (such as, Australia) have
started to embrace the need for sustainable fisheries
and product labels as necessary components of a
modern approach to fisheries management
(Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry,
Australia 2002). However, as described, the running
is being made by international NGOs and trade
organizations. As with capture fisheries, certification
and labelling schemes are gaining ground in the
marine aquarium trade and in aquaculture.
5.4.1 The Aquarium Trade
The trade in ornamental fish has been growing
since the 1970s and now constitutes a multi-million
dollar international enterprise. The industry is
composed of very many, relatively small enterprises
rather than large fishing companies, multinational
retailers or governments. Currently about 45
countries supply the market. However, like the trade
in capture fisheries products, the trade is
predominantly from developing countries to
northern developed countries: the major suppliers
(of marine species) are Indonesia and the
Philippines, with Brazil, Maldives, Vietnam, Sri
Lanka and Hawaii also supplying significant
quantities (Wood 2001). Around 98 per cent of the
industry is based on organisms captured from the
wild (MAC 2002).
The main consumer markets are the United States,
Europe and east Asia, especially Japan. The total
In paragraph 32 of the declaration of the WTO’s 4th Ministerial at Doha: "…the outcome of this work…shall be compatible with the open and non-
discriminatory nature of the multilateral trading system, shall not add to or diminish the rights and obligations of Members under existing WTO agreements,
in particular the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, not to alter the balance of these obligations, and will take account
of the needs of developing and least-developed countries".
import value of the specimens is calculated to be
US$28 to 44 million. Total global annual catch
could range from about 14 million to over 30
million fish
. Invertebrates and corals make an
increasing proportion of the total (Wood 2001).
Although the economic importance of aquarium
fisheries is relatively small in comparison with food
fisheries, the industry provides jobs and income
for many people in the supplying countries. In the
Philippines and Indonesia, some poor coastal
dwellers embark on dangerous and environmentally
damaging means of collection (such as hookah
diving and the use of explosives and poisons) to
sustain their livelihoods. Over-collection and the
damage to reef habitats have called the sustainability
of the trade into question
.These issues, and internal
pressures from the industry to improve the handling,
welfare and survival of live animals during shipping,
have led to the development of the Marine
Aquarium Council (see Box 7).
Promoting a participatory approach, the MAC has
progressed to the point of initiating certification
of companies and collection areas in the Philippines,
with the agreement of the national fisheries line
agency. Progress in certification is reported from
Indonesia and Fiji (MAC 2002). A major issue for
the trade in live fish is the certification and
monitoring of the chain of custody, and this
experience may be of value to other similar schemes
(see the issue of high value product tracing in
fisheries, section 4.1.3). The responsibilities of MAC
extend not only to raising the visibility of the label
(in both the supplying and receiving countries) but
in continued education of collectors. Preferably,
conservation NGOs and other concerned users of
the inshore and reef habitats – including local
governments, fishers, dive tourism enterprises, etc.
– will, in order to create a genuine fair trading
arrangement, address the issue of livelihood
alternatives for collecting families in poor
circumstances. The fundamental difference between
the aquarium and fisheries markets is that the
former is based on the disposable income of a
sector of the population already attuned to the
beauty and “value” of nature. It is to be expected
that this environmentally aware market may be
more willing to pay the price premium for certified
aquarium fish than those shopping for fish as a
staple food source from the family food budget.
24 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
As can be noted, there are wide confidence limits to these estimates, as international efforts to quantify this trade are still in progress. One of the issues
is to distinguish the trade in freshwater fish from the overall volume traded. Figures for this component of the trade are harder to come by and harder to
interpret because a large propotion of the freshwater fish traded are re-sales of cultivated species. However, the bulk of the trade is conducted in the same
south to north direction, also concerns extraction of fish from sensitive habitats (e.g. rainforest rivers), and may benefit from the application of international
standards in addition to the regulations governing trade in already endangered species encompassed by CITES.
See similar issues in relation to the live reef food fish trade, not discussed in this essay: Barber C.V. and Pratt, V.R. 1997. Sullied Seas: Strategies for combating
cyanide fishing in SouthEast Asia and beyond. World Resources Institute and International Marinelife Alliance-Philippines, Washington D.C.
The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC – is an international, not-for-profit organization
based in Hawaii, USA, that brings marine aquarium fish collectors, exporters, importers and retailers together with
aquarium keepers, public aquariums, conservation organizations and government agencies. MAC’s mission is to
conserve coral reefs and other ecosystems by creating standards and certifying those engaged in the collection and
care of ornamental fish from reef to aquarium. With initial emphasis on collection from the wild, the MAC has, to
date, developed core standards for ecosystem and fishery management; collection; fishing and holding; and handling,
husbandry and transport. The core standards outline the requirements for third party certification of quality and
sustainability and are accompanied by best practice guidance documents that provide advice to industry operators
on how they might comply with the standards. Full standards will be developed by, approximately, mid 2003, and
will be extended to include standards on mariculture and aquaculture management. The standards were developed
by an international public process and will seek to operate consistently with the WTO Code of Practice for Standard
Setting Organizations.
Box 7: The Marine Aquarium Council
This is yet to be tested. It will also be important to
monitor the success of MAC-like schemes in
countries like the Philippines, where there is a
substantial domestic market for aquarium fish. The
existence of an alternative market that may initially
be more reluctant to meet the higher prices for
certified fish would provide a test of the “leakiness”
principle for ecolabelled products described in
section 4.1.3 and further discussed in section 5.5.
5.4.2 Aquaculture – International
and Industry Moves Towards
Certification of Shrimp and Salmon
There are many different forms of aquaculture, and
substantial differences in the value of the products,
the contribution to livelihoods, the equity delivered,
and the costs to the environment of the different
forms and practices. In public and even in donor
agency perceptions, however, the worst-case scenario
may jeopardize the whole industry. The rapid and
unregulated intensification and expansion of coastal
areas of shrimp farming has resulted in habitat
destruction, pollution and disease – and, in some
cases, collapse of aquaculture and abandonment
of ruined land. Such scenarios have led to outcry
against shrimp farming (and even generically against
aquaculture that uses large amounts of by-catch in
fish-meal-based feeds: e.g. Naylor et al. 2000).
Shrimp farming only represents about 2.6 per cent
of total global aquaculture by volume (1.1 million
tonnes) but has a value of about US$6.7 billion
(or 12.5 per cent of the total value of the US$53.6
billion aquaculture trade). Developing countries
benefit substantially in terms of revenue from this
trade. Lem and Shehadeh (1997), in reviewing
international trade in aquaculture up to 1996,
pointed out that aquaculture was not paying the
price of social and economic externalities. They
believed that social concerns were already
influencing shrimp exports to developed country
markets, and that more sustainable practices,
including ecolabelling, will be forced on producers.
As a contribution to an FAO technical consultation
on policies for sustainable shrimp aquaculture, the
International Collective in Support of Fishworkers
(ICSF) put forward a ten point plan highlighting
the social and environmental issues that needed
to be addressed, within which ecolabelling was
promoted as an environmental measure (ICSF
1998). The point is further made that, once the
true social and environmental costs of shrimp
aquaculture have been internalized, the economic
incentive driving the expansion of shrimp
aquaculture may be reduced – although it is unlikely
that it will disappear entirely.
Indeed, both international agency-inspired and
trade-inspired initiatives to improve the
environmental performance of shrimp culture
(and other high value species) have been developed
(see examples in Box 8). The initiative of the
International Consortium on Shrimp Farming and
the Environment focuses on incorporating case
studies of shrimp farming around the world into
the development of best practice guides. Progress
to certification is viewed as a desirable next step.
However, it is probably not appropriate to treat
every coastal industry as an individual entity, and
there will be a need to harmonize certification and
licensing of operations with internationally agreed
norms and objectives for sustainable development.
Best practice guidelines will need to be developed
against explicit, overall criteria for environmental
improvement as a whole (Howarth 1998). The
World Bank, the FAO and their partners in the
consortium are well placed to establish links
between any guidelines developed and international
declarations and agreements. Compliance with
international guidelines provides developing
countries the potential best means of improving
the environmental and social performance of
aquaculture while maintaining access to world
markets. In the long-term, the viability of
aquaculture development will be market driven; it
will need to account for consumer demand and
have the capacity to adapt to the structure and
demands of the target markets. Quality control
schemes and management of safety aspects are
integral to the market and industry development
(Josupeit et al. 2001). Unfortunately, developing
countries have seen the Agreement on the
Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
(SPS) under GATT, together with ecolabelling, as
a bundle of potential barriers to trade in
(particularly) aquaculture and fisheries products
(see section 5.1 above). However, there has been
wider acceptance of HACCP and food safety
standards dictated by the Codex Alimentarius,
because these two frameworks have been largely
accepted as international norms (Josupeit et al.
2001). There are, so far, no internationally accepted
norms for ecolabelling or environmental
certification in aquaculture.
The tenure of aquaculture enterprises is usually
well defined, and in the hands of individuals or
small groups. There is better control on the use of
inputs and clear rights over the outputs produced.
It might be anticipated, therefore, that changes
inmanagement, and responsiveness to certification,
licensing and surveillance will all be more readily
carried out, akin to the monitoring of terrestrial
farming practices, than is the case for capture
fisheries. However, the wider “eco” purpose of
ecolabelling is more compelling in capture fisheries
than for aquaculture. The issues of sustainability
surrounding shared resources, the lack of control
on the level of catch, and the inputs required to
obtain a given catch all call for more responsible
harvesting behavior of individual fishers within
the overall industry.
International consortium on Shrimp Farming and the Environment (NACA – the Shrimp website, 2002)
This website describes the formation and the activities of the Consortium Program entitled "Shrimp farming and
the environment”. The partners are the World Bank, the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia (NACA), WWF and
the FAO. Case studies of shrimp aquaculture have been conducted since 1999, in collaboration with stakeholders
in the industry around the world. A stakeholder meeting in Washington D.C., USA, in March 2002 agreed that better
management principles (BMP) should be agreed throughout the shrimp industry – i.e. the need for self regulation
has been recognized on the bases of public concern for the environment and of industry concerns about
sustainability and commercial image. The meeting agreed that international work on certification systems should
be initiated... based on the core BMP, and went as far as to suggest that financial and tax incentives for implementing
BMPs should be explored by the Consortium.
Global Aquaculture Alliance (accessed 25 Nov 2002)
The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is an international, non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing
environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture. The GAA promotes best management practices for sustainable
aquaculture through its responsible aquaculture program, conferences and other activities. This US-based organization
has developed several individual codes of practice relating to good aquaculture practices and
a certification scheme (the “Aquaculture Certification Council” to meet the needs
of the shrimp industry in the first instance. The logo of certification is meant as an indicator to wholesalers, and is
not currently offered on final products for retail.
Scottish Quality Salmon (accessed 25 Nov 2002)
Scottish Quality Salmon is dedicated to improving the quality and sustainability of salmon farming in Scotland and
the growing membership now represents around 65 per cent of the tonnage produced by the Scottish salmon
farming industry. The company operates an independent food product certification process, but also helps salmon
farming enterprises meet and comply with strict government imposed regulations on feed, the regulatory
framework and fish welfare. Scottish Quality Salmon has been instrumental in developing environmental management
systems that are designed to help members formalize, integrate and extend their existing environmental control
measures in order to meet ISO 14001 standards.
Box 8 : Aquaculture – selected examples of international and industry moves towards certification of shrimp
and salmon
26 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
5.5 Can Ecolabelling Schemes
Succeed? Economic Choice,
Substitution and Leakiness
The concept of ecolabelling is based on the
assumption that consumers are willing to pay the
“green” premium on goods in order to satisfy their
beliefs in environmental sustainability. Will
consumers pay the price? The answer, so far, is less
than clear-cut. Dawkins (1995) and Wessells (see
section 3.3 in Wessells et al. 2001) have reviewed
the available theoretical and practical evidence for
this relatively new area of environmental marketing.
Theoretical analysis of labelling shows that, up to
a point, in a case where the quantity demanded of
an environmentally friendly product exceeds the
quantity supplied, the ecolabelled product will
increase in price. However, beyond a certain price
differential, adverse effects can be generated.
Depending upon the price premium for labelled
goods (and the relative size of the market captured
by certified products), the price of both certified
and uncertified goods can increase in the market.
This could lead to over-production of uncertified
goods in response to the higher prices. In forestry,
for example, if certification is mandatory, producers
may switch away from certifiable forestry into other
uncertified land use practices. Environmental
labelling in fisheries is almost too recent to conduct
ex post economic analyses. Thus, some of the
assessments (Wessells, Johnston and Donath 1999;
Johnston, Wessells et al. 2001) are surveys of
potential readiness to pay, not actual measurement.
This ex ante assessment seems to indicate willingness
to pay a premium price in a proportion of the
population (evaluated in the USA and Norway).
This willingness to pay depends on the degree of
knowledge in the population about what ecolabels
represent; there are likely to be large differences in
willingness to pay between consumers within
countries, as well as between countries and regions.
The studies were careful to compare like with like,
e.g. certified salmon with uncertified salmon.
However, there are quite large possibilities for
substitution between types of seafood products
(e.g. lobster, crab and shrimp; oysters, clams,
mussels, scallops). This potential for substitution
is particularly apparent amongst white fish fillets,
as is evidenced in the growth in the market of tilapia
and catfish fillets from freshwater aquaculture. At
large price differentials (in markets not bound to
buying fish as a cultural tradition), there can also
be substitution effects with other white meat
products like chicken. The confounding effects of
introducing further price differentials into seafood
supply and demand through ecolabelling have not
so far been studied.
These first essays in evaluation have been based in
countries where consumer populations are expected
to be relatively eco-conscious. However, two of the
major markets for seafood are in Asia (Japan’s
imports accounted for 25 per cent of the global
trade total in 1999 – FAO 2001); and China is
prospectively one of the largest in the
(Delgado and Courbois 1997; Yang 2003).
Neither market is particularly eco-conscious, and
China has its own huge and diverse domestic market
in which ecolabelled products may find it difficult
to make a foothold. This is the case, at smaller
scales, in most of the countries of South and
Southeast Asia presently. The level of Japanese
demand is so high that it is a stimulus to illegal
fishing by others (Kattoulas 2002).
An issue alluded to by Wessells et al. (2001) is the
comprehension by the consumer of what ecolabels
actually mean and whether or not consumer
mistrust of “advertising” will prove a serious hurdle
to acceptance. It is clear that some consumers can
be motivated to react to the actual or potential loss
of icon species (dolphin, turtle, seal), but the less-
easily conveyed idea of “ecosystem sustainability”
of unseen aquatic systems, may defy easy marketing
In 2000, China imported 2.52 million tonnes in volume and US$1.85 billion in value of fish and seafood products. Key factors in the trade currently are
the high importation of fish-meal and low value species used for aquaculture feeds, and the tendency to export high value species. However, if the growth
in overall meat consumption is taken as an indicator, China’s rapid development, its large population and growing affluence will increase the trend to
import higher value food fish.
– particularly when the general public has no
simultaneous sympathy for magnificent animals
such as tuna or swordfish. One could speculate
that it will be easier in the future to label and
promote farmed (aquaculture) species as an
alternative means of protecting wild resources, than
it will be to educate the buying public about biomass
limits and harvesting from the wild.
There is a current appreciation of fish as a healthy
commodity (without, so far, any damaging examples
of disease or toxicity problems arising from
aquaculture at the level of the foot and mouth
disease/bovine spongiform encephalopathy scares
affecting markets for red meat in Europe). This will
keep demand high in the health-conscious and
(potentially) eco-conscious US and European
markets. However, high demand from markets not
requiring ecolabels in the future could marginalize
a world-wide approach to ecolabelling – leaving it
as a mechanism to satisfy only retailers seeking
niche markets and not as any overall improvement
in fisheries management.
28 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Given the size of the market for fisheries products,
ecolabelling may remain of importance to some
nations’ retailers but not to others. However,
assuming it can work as a market mechanism, the
altruistic raison d’etre for ecolabelling is that it is
also a stimulus to the improvement of fisheries
management – and it is increasingly being
considered in this regard (Commission of the
European Communities 2002). Presently, the
current MSC criteria appear scientifically well
founded but difficult to apply in the context of
data-poor, tropical, multi-species fisheries in
developing countries. This has been recognized by
the MSC and the WWF, and steps are being taken
by these two organizations to examine the
requirements in relation to the appropriate
indicators and guidelines for the application of
certification to small-scale, developing country
fisheries (see section 4.1.2). Other major initiatives
in fisheries management globally involve the
development of indicators, ecosystem approaches
to management, and community involvement and
devolution of governance. The next three sections
examine these three new approaches and how the
requirements for certification may be integrated.
6.1 Indicators of
Fisheries Management
Fisheries science is plagued by uncertainty –
assessment of fish stocks is obliged to rely on
random sampling of the whole, and biophysical
interactions governing the success of recruitment
to any fishery produce wide natural fluctuations in
this fundamental parameter. Presently, standing
stocks in many of the world’s fisheries are below
historical levels, and the ecosystem interactions
between fish populations that might occur at higher
(or lower) overall abundances are still unknown
for the majority of species. Goals for fisheries
management can be set annually on the basis of
the best available evidence, but the results must be
frequently assessed because of these uncertainties.
There must be an ability to adapt targets and
management in the light of unexpected changes,
and it must be possible to discern these changes
amongst long-term biological trends. The
requirement to embrace uncertainty is embodied
in the precautionary principle of the Code of
Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO 1995).
Further, two issues in the development of fisheries
management are yet to be resolved.
The first is the more accurate measurement of
management performance in fisheries so as to set
more accurate limits and to monitor sustainable
fishing practices (these requirements are essentially
enshrined in the MSC principles). However, in
many countries, there is a simultaneous move to
devolve authority to wider groups of stakeholders
(in an effort to improve compliance) and to manage
fisheries locally. To accommodate these two trends
a pragmatic balance must be struck; this will require
the development of sets of indicators which are
sufficiently precise for management, but which are
more descriptive of the local fishery in terms that
the stakeholders can understand and utilize (FAO
1999; Garcia and Staples 2000; Garcia et al. 2000;
Degnbol 2001). If the certification agencies wish
to involve the range of global fisheries, they, like
the FSC, will have to adapt their criteria
for certification to the varying local
circumstances.However, making choices amongst
indicators is not always a straightforward task.
Gorfine et al. (2001) describe attempts to define
single measure reference points for a sessile,
invertebrate species (abalone) in response to
Australian Commonwealth regulations that require
each fishery to be developed sustainably (using
very similar principles and criteria to those of the
MSC). A single indicator was considered insufficient,
and biomass assessments are complicated when
background information is incomplete, or when
the assessments are distorted by illegal harvesting.
6 The Importance of Ecolabelling with Respect to
Other Management Initiatives
Draft Guidelines on Ecosystem Approach to Fishing. FAO (in preparation). Note also, Report of the First SCOR-IOC Working Group 119 (2001) “Quantitative
ecosystem indicators for fisheries management” held 5-6 October 2001, Reykjavik, Iceland ( - accessed November 2002). See
abstracts of papers presented at the preceding Reykyavik Conference (1-4, October, 2001) on responsible fisheries in the marine ecosystem. FAO Fisheries
Report No. 658, Supplement. See also, WWF Australia. 2002. Policy proposals and operational guidance for ecosystem-based management of marine capture
fisheries. Available from p. 80.
Development of simple but effective indicators is
something of a conundrum (of which both the MSC
and the WWF are aware), and is likely to require many
empirical trials of indicators in different types and
scales of fisheries before confidence in the setting and
use of indicators for local fisheries management is
achieved. It is recommended that a number of these
trials be undertaken in developing countries with
government, agency and NGO support, with the
results being made available internationally. The
efficacy of such indicator sets and frameworks for
sustainable management will need to be demonstrated
before they can be incorporated into internationally
recognized schemes for certification and ecolabelling
that are applicable to all scales of fisheries.
6.2 The Ecosystem Approach to
Fisheries Management
A second dimension of the new paradigm for
fisheries management is the ecosystem approach
to fishing (Gislason et al. 2000). The
implementation of this approach is key to shifting
the focus of fisheries management from protracted
discussions of over-fishing and habitat degradation
to management for sustainable development, as
urged by the WSSD. The ecosystem approach to
fishing has been presaged in many earlier
international documents, and is currently the subject
of work by the FAO and others
. Once crystallized,
an international effort will be required to move the
concept forward. The publicized collapse of
conspicuous fish stocks around the world, and the
urgings of the WSSD declaration, give a driving
force to consideration of this approach, which has
already been adopted by some developed countries
(e.g. Australia op. cit.) and international conventions
(Constable et al. 2000). We do not underestimate
the challenges in its adoption. In the case of the
Alaska ground fish fisheries, attempts to introduce
the concept include public participation, reliance
on scientific research and advice, conservative catch
quotas, comprehensive monitoring and
enforcement, definition of TACs and fishing quotas,
strict rules on by-catch (where species caught as
by-catch are factored into TACs for that species,
etc.), spatial distribution of fisheries, and potential
networks of marine protected areas (Witherall et
al. 2000). In the case of developing countries,
primary issues would also include controlling access,
reducing excess capacity and generally improving
the monitoring of catches. The introduction of
these practices would be difficult for many
developing country and small-scale fisheries. The
ecosystem approach is specifically included in the
MSC principles, and research is required in how to
turn the intention into practice.
There is, however, a political issue in the
presentation of the ecosystem approach because
the concept is still emerging, and, in many cases,
lack of precise scientific knowledge of (particularly
marine) ecosystems makes full implementation
difficult. The MSC principles (and the very similar
ones adopted by Australia) assume that ecosystem
management can be put in place. In the case of the
MSC certification of the hoki fishery, fishery
management planning has been driven towards
the development of more explicit ecosystem-
conserving activities, even though the fishery has
been certified as an interim measure. It is, therefore,
important to stress for developing countries that
a) ecosystem considerations should be built upon
the existing fisheries management regime and not
be seen as something separate from it; b)
appropriate time and experimentation is required
for the full development of the concept; c) in terms
of fisheries management plans, it will mean more
attention to by-catch and habitat protection issues;
d) in terms of national governance, it will mean
moving beyond fisheries indicators per se, to paying
more attention to the legal and administrative
exercise of the property rights of fishing groups,
and integration of fishing activities with other uses
30 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
of the marine waters and the coastal zone; and e)
the rate at which it is implemented as a principle
driving certification of sustainable fisheries
management should depend upon the international
state of knowledge of the concept and process, and
the rate of assistance for its implementation in
developing countries. The development of the
ecosystem approach to fishing is too important to
ignore, and ecolabelling concerns should not be
presented as a barrier to its implementation. More
should be done to translate the concepts into
measures to be implemented – and artisanal or
simply improved gears (which limit by-catch or the
catch of juveniles of the target species, e.g. Munro
et al. 2002) are likely contributors to this.
Nevertheless, access, zoning and monitoring remain
three essential issues to be addressed by national
A clear conceptual advantage of the ecosystem
approach is that it moves from management of
catches to a set of integrative measures that include
conservation. The cost of better management is the
cost of environmental conservation. The ecosystem
approach, properly implemented, would allow the
identification of the measures required for
exploitation and conservation of fisheries, and the
internalization of so far unpaid environmental
costs into the fishing industry. Ecolabelling may
be a partial means to recoup some of the additional
costs, but improved management will also come
at some temporary social costs which, so far, most
fishing nations have been unwilling to recognize
and bear. Nevertheless it would seem better to
accept these costs, than suffer fisheries and
environmental failures which would lead anyway
to the loss of livelihoods and possibly to social
6.3 Certification and
Community-based Fisheries
Over the past decade community participation in
the management of environmental assets has grown
in importance. Such participation is by no means
new, as common resources such as grazing lands,
irrigation systems, fisheries, forests and wildlife
have historically been managed by the people who
use them. What is new is the perception of policy
makers that community involvement is needed not
only in finding a solution to perceived market
failure (such as overexploitation of a fishery) but
also, and more importantly, in the development of
institutions for managing natural resources.
Similarly, community-based certification as a way
of dealing with the overexploitation of fisheries is
promoted as the best way of including small-scale
fisheries. This approach involves selecting sites
where there are organized communities that manage
fisheries. The concept of certification and labelling
is then discussed with the community and the
criteria that have to be fulfilled by the fishers in the
community are agreed upon. The fishery is then
assessed using criteria that account respectively for
the stock conditions, the impact on the ecosystem,
and the management system that is in place for the
fishery. The community then takes responsibility
for ensuring that the fishing practices within their
jurisdiction follow the certification criteria.
The key problem with community certification is
the question of what is the relevant community to
certify. In most small-scale fisheries the community
is more than just fishers; it includes also farmers,
foresters and part-time workers. Dealing with only
a fishing community does not work in most small-
scale fisheries. The other major problem with
community certification relates to the scale of the
resource and the effective control the community
can exercise over the resource. The larger the scale
of the resource, the harder it becomes to manage
within a community due to activities of other
groups, either upstream or downstream. An example
given earlier is the control that a small-scale fishing
community could have over the subsequent post-
harvest processes and chain of command. The scale
issue continues to be a major challenge for
community-based management systems.
The increasing devolution that is taking place in
the fisheries of Southeast Asia is an indication that
there is potential for community-based certification
schemes. However, the wider aspects of certification
are still seen very strongly by fishers of the region
as a government responsibility. For certification to
work in Southeast Asia, and in the developing world
•Feasibility and consequences of extending ecolabelling to tropical, developing country fisheries
Feasible indicator development and testing for all scales of fisheries management
Analysis and evaluation of the efficacy of such schemes in improving fisheries management
How best to ensure equity for the potential beneficiaries of access to the licensing schemes, the sale of products
and domestic consumption in small developing countries where even current catches are not properly evaluated
and recorded
Impact of certification of one group in a fishery on others
Impact of certification on prices of fish, especially high value fish, which may become beyond the reach of most
of the consumers in developing countries
Impact of price differentials between certified and uncertified fisheries and within fisheries within these groups
Impact of certification on uncertified fisheries if fishing effort and fishing capacity is redirected from certified
fishery to uncertified or illegal fisheries
Box 9a : Issues for research
in general, governments will need to play a strong
role, including in the financing of certification. At
present, the possibility of attracting a significant
portion of developing country fisheries into
certification schemes appears to be slim. The
problem of an oversupply of uncertified fish
products will be the norm in the developing world,
and this will increase the financial risks and possible
losses for those traders who volunteer for
6.4 Avenues for Research and
International Support
Many of the issues and objections raised in sections
4, 5 and 6 of this paper have not been sufficiently
tested to allay concerns over ecolabelling in
developing country fisheries. To be relevant in the
producing country context, ecolabelling and
certification schemes will have to be developed
with, and respond to, the major developments in
fisheries management. There is ample scope for
such testing and evaluation of small-scale and
developing country issues to be carried out in line
with steps to improve fisheries management
generally (see Boxes 9a and 9b for some of the key
topics arising from this discussion).
While we consider that the definition of user groups
and community-based management in relation to
certification is one of the keys, there are several
research roles to be played by international
organizations and agencies. There will be a need
to develop awareness of the issues in more countries
and, for example, for the ASEAN countries to join
this debate. There is a need to facilitate and improve
the readiness of NGOs and governments to come
together to test useful and equitable practices.
Regional organizations could be invested with
authority by governmental groupings to help
develop regionally applicable labelling schemes
that are linked to the international acceptance of
generalized criteria and principles. Third party
certification must be recognized as a requirement
for products to be globally accepted.
6.5 Setting the Agenda and a Call
for Response
One of the reasons for ecolabelling being
contentious is the way in which the agenda is being
set. The majority of United Nations and other
international institutes have been established as
organizations of member states. They tend to restrict
deliberations to the mandate of the organization,
and resolve issues according to international law
or with reference to international guidelines for
the subject matter. Such organizations recognize
the equivalence of states and the sovereignty of
governments over the affairs of the state and its
resources. Delegations to such bodies reflect the
government position and not necessarily the
consensus of public or scientific opinion. In the
past, developing countries have been relatively well-
32 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
•Equitable opportunity to participate
•Government involvement in access regimes and national planning (including the restoration of credibility of
ecolabelling schemes) for improved management
Improved harmonization of environmental and trade regimes
•Clear trade rules on non-product PPM
•Financial support and institutional capacity building to take on the improved monitoring system(s) required
Support for learning, through the implementation of regionally appropriate management and certification
schemes, and for the international harmonization of certification and ecolabelling standards (bearing in mind
the need for equivalence)
Box 9b : Issues for policy support in the development of ecolabelling and certification of sustainable fisheries
served by such equivalence principles, although a
drawback of interstate dispute settlement is that
political considerations, particularly balancing
environment against trade, can lead to compromise
agreements – or even to countries being unwilling
to fight for their “rights” on an issue, fearing
economic reprisals. Unilateral actions or sanctions
by states have been discouraged (Kingsbury 1994).
Also, in a globalizing world, NGOs, trade
associations, multinational companies and other
elements of civil society are finding means to raise
environmental and other issues outside the
intergovernmental structure. Consortia (or
“advocacy coalitions”), sometimes including
governments, are formed according to the topic in
question (Elliot 2001). This has the advantage of
focusing both public and private expertise on the
issue at hand. The consortia so formed are less
susceptible to deflection by political trade-offs,
although they are largely dependent upon
governments to act on the outcomes (or to legislate
for others to act). Some developing countries object
a priori to this extra-territorial infringement of rights
– as exemplified by ecolabelling – whilst others
would argue that extra-territorially imposed
environmental regulations are unlikely to strike
the right balance between environmental
conservation and social and economic development
at the national or local level (Rotherham 2002).
However, in cases where there are no clear
international rules to guide the debate, consensus
is hard to achieve, or resolution of the issues is left
to the interpretation of available international
instruments. As international law covering
environmental issues is still less well-founded than
trade law, the WTO is being forced to provide
judgments on environmental disputes for which,
in the past, it has been ill-equipped (Downes and
van Dyke 1998). The interstate deliberations of the
WTO have previously allowed relatively little input
from non-governmental actors. The outcomes of
the WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha mark a
change towards the explicit acceptance of the need
to examine the rules of the WTO covering
environmental and trade issues. Also, the acceptance
of amicus curiae briefs, or other written depositions,
from NGOs and governments during the
deliberations on environmental issues (Shaffer1998;
Shaffer and Mosoti 2002) marks the recognition
that additional scientific or public sector perspectives
should be admitted to international arbitration on
the environment (as foreseen by Kingsbury 1994).
A likely consequence of globalization is that
international viewpoints, set in increasing measure
by transnational advocacy coalitions, will impinge
on the domestic level of governance. It is, therefore,
in the interest of all states to engage in the
development of international guidelines for the
environment that can inform and regulate actions
(or adjudications) in a more rational and
standardized manner. In the case of new initiatives
to enhance the sustainability of fisheries
management, states must decide whether the agenda
has really been set by the declaration by Unilever,
or by the FAO Code of Conduct for responsible
fisheries. Or will the WSSD Declaration on the
urgent action needed to manage fisheries, which
resulted from a broader consultation and more
synthetic intergovernmental process on
environmental issues and development, set the
environmental agenda for fisheries? For the
satisfaction of developing countries, each of these
attempts to stimulate action must lead, as rapidly
as possible, to the formulation of harmonious,
internationally acceptable and recognized guidelines
for sustainable fisheries management at global and
regional levels. A parsimonious approach would
be to recognize the overlapping levels in these calls
to action, and to make clear the need for guidelines
as a nested set of management guidelines operating
at global, regional and local levels. There will be a
need to recognize that, whilst the principles and
criteria at higher levels can be espoused, the verifiers
and indicators of sustainable fisheries are likely to
require development according to more local criteria
(as described by Degnbol 2001). Accordingly, the
recognition of technical equivalence in the indicators
and monitoring requirements for individual types
and scales of fisheries should be made a higher
order principle, and efforts made to put the measures
into practice empirically. This would take the
discussion outside the realm of contentious, trade-
related issues and into a more practical, operational
stage from which all could learn. Standards agencies,
which can assist nations (or regional trade groups
– Helland 2001) deal not only with environmental
labelling but also with other health and product
quality issues, should be established in developing
countries to provide them with the capacity and
bargaining power needed in the wider debates on
labels (Rotherham 2002).
34 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
Roheim, C.A. (in press). Early indications from the Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabelling of seafood. Thalassorama Marine Resources Economics.
While this paper has ostensibly been a discussion
of ecolabelling in fisheries, we have argued that a
preoccupation with ecolabelling tends to focus
defensive debate on only one aspect of a larger
issue. The emphasis must be on improved fisheries
management. Ecolabelling and market share are
just part of the rewards for more sustainable fisheries
management regimes
Developing countries must move towards
developing access rights to fisheries and to capacity
monitoring as national priorities (before the
collapse of fisheries drives an unregulated political
process). National efforts should be dovetailed,
where possible, with regional and international
research into devolved governance arrangements
(since the responsibility of fisheries’ user groups,
or quota holders in other fisheries, generally results
in the development of more sustainable fisheries
plans); indicators; and the development of
ecosystem fishing as an inter-sectoral issue, not just
an isolated fishery issue. Governments should be
prepared to work with a range of regional and
international actors to extend indicators for local
use and to develop their application through
adaptive management. Disagreement with
ecolabelling must not be used as a scapegoat for
inaction (or to cover the fact that some countries
still make large amounts of money out of shrimp,
and trash fish for fishmeal from otherwise
impoverished fisheries).
Is it intellectually honest to downplay the role of
fisheries certification on the basis of current criteria
being too difficult, but at the same time to promote
the new paradigms in fisheries management – which
encompass many of the same goals (including
ecosystem approaches) and are as difficult? We
would reconcile this apparent contradiction using
the evidence to date, which suggests that good
national fisheries management regimes predispose
to the development of conditions that allow
certification, but that the current MSC standard is
almost impossible to translate and implement in
many developing countries and small-scale fisheries.
Even developed countries have considerable research
to do to find means to implement the ecosystem
approach satisfactorily. Revision of national fisheries
management will have to precede the ad hoc
development of certified fisheries, which may meet
retail needs for the trade but which will fail as the
sole stimulus to the global improvement of fisheries
management. Further research on the translation
of the MSC standard – and adoption of indicators
that could enhance the probability of small-scale
fisheries accessing certification schemes – will be
a worthwhile contribution to the overall global
requirements. But the emphasis should be on
national governments (working regionally where
possible) to take steps to improve fisheries
management and to join in debates and trials about
how best this is achieved. The development of
agreed international management standards for
sustainable fishing will assist recognition and
compliance under international trade law. In the
developing world, the role of governments will be
crucial in making or breaking certification schemes.
Forging advocacy coalitions that include
governments, rather than attempting to impose
extraterritorial labelling schemes, is required for
Further research is also required to evaluate the
environmental and social costs of fishing, so that
the true costs of management can subsequently be
reflected in fish prices. Parallel efforts should be
made to evaluate the means by which ecolabels
can be given to aquaculture products. Attention
should then be paid to the interplay (in potentially
eco-sensitive markets) between labelled aquaculture
7 Conclusions
36 WorldFish Center Ecolabelling and Fisheries Management
products and wild-caught products, to avoid
industrial aquaculture products undercutting trade
in sustainably-fished, wild-caught seafood, and
thus turning the current debate on its head.
At the international level, the WSSD has set several
ambitious deadlines for the implementation of
plans of action to reverse the parlous state of
fisheries management. The somewhat longer
deadline (until 2010) suggested by the WSSD for
the general application of the ecosystem approach
to responsible fisheries reflects three issues that
need to be addressed in the intervening period.
These are the further development of the approach,
including the scientific, data and analytical
requirements; the development of conservation
and management measures appropriate to the
approach; and the introduction of new regulatory
mechanisms and an evaluation of the socio
economic consequences (FAO 2002). The MSC and
its advocacy coalition can join in the development
and testing of such indicators and approaches. It
would seem unreasonable to expect fisheries to
comply stringently with a concept, the
underpinnings of which are still being developed.
Utopian calls for better management and the
adoption of “right principles” will not go far without
funding (FAO 2002). Unless judged to be
monopolistic, international trading organizations
can be instrumental in assisting the adoption of
various principles, including environmentally
conserving ones. Part of the substance of the WTO’s
Appellate Body findings against the US in the tuna-
dolphin dispute were based on the fact that the US
could not impose conditions on other countries in
a manner different from that which they would use
to condition and inform their own national
organizations in the imposition of new
environmental law. The implication is that the
partner countries require adequate time, and
practical and financial assistance to prepare for,
and to implement, new and improved management.
This is not a call to delay, rather a call for nations
to take the lead in changing management, and for
donors and those who benefit from the commercial
exploitation (particularly at the fishing industry
and retail levels) to help pay for the research and
management required. Trade in fisheries was not
specifically mentioned in the Declaration of the
WSSD (although it is, of course, implicit in the
work plan of the WTO), but the financial benefits
from the trade are one of the most obvious sources
of financing improved management and paying
the costs of sustainable fisheries.
As international bodies review the pros and cons
of ecolabelling as part of action plans for their
own fisheries policy (e.g. Commission of the
European Community 2002), they must also
consider how the north can assist governments
of the developing countries to examine controlled
access, the removal of excess capacity and
improved monitoring of their natural resources.
The experience thus far with certification and
labelling shows that all the certified fisheries are
in countries where there is substantial fisheries
management and governance. Having in place
good management regimes at the national level
would seem to be a prerequisite to certification
and labelling, and developing countries will have
to move toward improved management in general
to help ensure their fisheries can enter into third
party certification schemes. Paying for sustainable
management will impose additional costs but
the costs of conservation may be a means of
internalizing the real environmental costs of fish
as a product. True pricing of fish in the world
market will be of advantage to the developing
countries in trade terms. Sustainable fisheries
We are grateful to Chris Grieve, Yemi Oloruntuyi,
John Poulsen, Bruce Shallard and Cathy Roheim
Wessells, for constr