ANDY WALKER: Effort continues towards certification

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The P.E.I. lobster industry is continuing the march towards eco-certification.

At a time when the consumer has questions about how their food is produced, certification is quickly moving from being a marketing advantage to the market standard. The Marine Stewardship Council has become the international standard for eco-certification and the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is taking a leading role in ensuring its member in all three lobster fishing areas in the province have eco-certification at or near the top of their agenda.

They have joined forces with the Lobster Council of Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the provincial Department of Fisheries and the Seafood Processors Association to sponsor a series of meetings over the fall and winter to explain the certification process.

The reality, unfortunately, is that turning thumbs down on the idea is not an option. Many large European wholesalers and retailers are already demanding the Marine Stewardship Council seal of approval on all products they buy.  Many North American retailers are now gearing up to follow suit.

The council certifies a host of fish species and fishing areas right around the globe. Currently there are 86 certified fish products, with another 121 working towards completing the process. That process is expensive, taking 12-18 months and costing between $15,000 to $120,000, depending on the complexity of the assessment.  The association and the province have already sponsored a pre-assessment ¬– the first step in the process. It basically lays out a road map to take the industry to the next level.

The certification is designed to ensure the long-term viability of the resource by making sure the fishery is sustainable, while minimizing environmental impacts.  A big part of that sustainability must be ensuring fishermen receive prices that will ensure their economic survival.

Nobody argues with the idea of sustainable management. The questions are “who will pick up the tab?” and “will there be a level playing field?” If the Island industry commits to eco-certification, will they receive a premium price to reflect the added cost, or will their traditional markets be flooded by cheaper products.

Canadian farmers have spent considerable dollars to ensure food safety and sustainability only to see the domestic market flooded with crops from countries that don’t follow the same standards. The federal government has so far refused to impose the same standards on imported food that Canadian producers must meet. Fishermen should be concerned history may repeat itself when it comes to the harvest of the sea.

Organizations: Marine Stewardship Council, Lobster Council of Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Seafood Processors Association North American

Geographic location: P.E.I. Fishermen, Iceland

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