Environment, Europe, Headlines

ICELAND: Don’t Trust Those Fishy Certificates

Lowana Veal

REYKJAVIK, Dec 3 2010 (IPS) - New eco-labels on Icelandic seafood are misleading and unregulated, concealing practices that damage the environment, critics say.

Nets that net too much. Credit: Lowana Veal

Nets that net too much. Credit: Lowana Veal

Increasingly, Icelandic fishing companies are focusing their attention on foreign markets. In order to appeal to eco-conscious consumers abroad, many of these corporations are introducing labels that guarantee their products as “certified responsible seafood”.

However, critics claim that these labels obscure the truth of the fishing industry in Iceland, which relies on over-fishing and ecologically damaging practices to meet demand for profit.

One problem with the new labeling system is that it doesn’t rely on any objective criteria for certification – individual companies are responsible for certifying their own products as ecologically friendly without having to meet any specific standards. This has resulted in an array of labels for all types of fish.

Icelandic cod, for example, can be certified as eco-friendly in a variety of ways.

Finnur Gardarsson, a member of the Fisheries Association of Iceland, told IPS that Icelandic cod fisheries are being evaluated by Global Trust Certification, an “independent, accredited, third-party certification body” based in Ireland that will complete the certification process within the next few weeks, labeling the cod ‘Iceland responsible fisheries – certified’.

At the same time, the Icelandic Group, one of the top ten seafood companies worldwide, has begun a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that will label Icelandic cod and haddock ‘certified responsible seafood – MSC’.

And Ny-fiskur, a fishing company that operates in the southwestern tip of Iceland, is beginning to label its cod ‘Friend of the Sea’.

In addition, an ‘Iceland Responsible Fisheries’ logo, which was developed in 2009 in response to requests by overseas buyers, is currently being used by more than 80 companies to market their fish abroad. The only criterion is that all the fish being sold must be of Icelandic origin.

Underneath the issue of using dubious certification for marketing purposes lies a deeper criticism: that the fishing industry in its current state is causing harm to the environment by relying on damaging practices.

Gretar Mar Jonsson, a long-time fisherman and former member of the Althing (Icelandic parliament), told IPS that with the current fishing management system, “men only land the best fish, discarding the rest, which means we are not treating our resources well.”

Greenpeace echoed this statement in its International Seafood Red List. “For (haddock) stocks in Northeast Arctic and Iceland, scientists have recommended that better management is needed,” it said. “Greenland halibut stock levels are at a historic low in waters around Iceland.

“Scientists have advised that fishing should be reduced,” it added.

However, Icelandic quotas have been increased for both haddock and Greenland halibut. For the latter, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) recommended a catch of 5,000 tonnes for Iceland, East Greenland and the Faroes combined. Icelandic authorities subsequently decided on a quota of 13,000 tonnes, almost three times the recommended amount.

In addition, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography says that “fisheries that are being heavily depleted, reliant on high-impact methods such as bottom trawling that aren’t destined for human consumption, should be excluded from certification.”

Bottom trawling, an industrial fishing method that drags large, heavy nets across the seafloor, has been shown to kill corals, sponges, fishes, and other animals. The method is heavily restricted around the globe and, in some waters, banned.

Information from the Directorate of Fisheries reveals that bottom trawls accounted for 44.5 percent of the total catch of Icelandic ships in the 2009- 2010 fishing year. The practice was used for catching main commercial fish: cod, haddock, saithe, and other demersal species.

Republish | | Print |

asylum for wayward victorian