GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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April 29, 2013

Fishing panel eyes fed stamp for seafood

The New England Fishery Management Council, NOAA’s grassroots policy writing and advisory arm, is urging the U.S. Commerce Department to create a sustainability certification system with federal oversight for seafood caught by American boats from U.S. ports.

The council voted 16-0 at the end of its three day meeting in Mystic, Conn., to ask Congress to include in its rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act language establishing a certification program for seafood — similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s stamp of approval for meat, according to the debate at the council.

The agreement will be presented in May at a Coordinating Council Meeting of the eight regional councils that were established under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The growing impulse of consumers to eat responsibly and buy food that is environmentally responsible and sustainable has spawned a slew of private, non-profit certtifiers, but their priorities and values have created a crazy quilt of “do’s and don’t’s” that have left the industry uncertain and often battered by conflicting certifications and refusals.

Whole Foods Markets, which buys seafood in Gloucester, decided last spring that it would no longer buy cod, the primary target of the fleet in Gloucester, that was caught by trawling — dragging nets along the bottom. Instead, Whole Foods decided to buy only from hook fishermen, whose landings are also indiscriminate, but do not have an impact on the ocean bottoms.

The Whole foods’ decision highlights the range of influences underpinning the certification decision-making of the private certifers.

Today, seafood seals of approval — for sustainability or issues of perceived environmental degradation in the harvesting, such as trawling for cod — are issued by a range of certifiers, each with a unique structure, history and set of values or biases, from the Marine Stewardship Council — a global giant that certifies for Wal-Mart and many major brands — to the New York author-environmentalist Carl Safina’s Blue Ocean Institute, which essentially takes position that “if you’re eating seafood, you’re eating mercury.”

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