Mislabelling, traceability in seafood supply chains tackled collectively



Posted on 11 December 2012
Encouraging signs are emerging in the local seafood sector, to help drive positive change on the ocean and increase consumer confidence in seafood products by committing to sustainable practices.

Last week a symposium titled “Sustainable Seafood in South Africa: Where are we going and how will we get there?” was co-hosted by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and WWF-SA’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-SASSI). It was attended by approximately 80 representatives from the seafood sector, as well as from government and universities. Panel discussions focused on how to reward well-managed fisheries in the marketplace, as well as efforts to improve traceability in the seafood supply chain and how best to implement Fisheries Improvement Projects.

Martin Purves, MSC’s Southern Africa Programme Manager, says: “It is very encouraging to see how consumer awareness in SA has grown over the last number of years. A growing number of suppliers and retailers are stepping up to the plate and the environmental impacts of seafood products in their supply chains is becoming an important attribute in their sourcing criteria. More and more companies are making commitments to sustainable seafood and these efforts should be commended and supported. Every small consumer choice for sustainable seafood will ultimately create the incentive for better managed fisheries and drive the changes out at sea that are needed to conserve fish stocks. Market demand for MSC eco-labelled products rewards certified fisheries and encourages others to change their practices. The supply chain can play an important role in collaborative Fisheries Improvement Projects, where the ultimate goal is to bring fisheries up to MSC standards."

A major topic of discussion at the symposium was the fraudulent labelling of fish and fishery products, which has emerged as a serious threat to global seafood markets. Junaid Francis, WWF-SA’s Seafood Industry Liaison Officer, says, “With an acute rise in seafood demand and the increasing globalisation of seafood trade, many countries’ regulatory systems have been unable to adapt quickly enough to effectively control seafood trade, with the result that fraud and mislabelling of seafood products has become common practice, including the selling of unsustainable/illegal or undesirable species under the guise of sustainable and more expensive alternatives.” The situation is similar on the South African seafood market where fraudulent labelling or the misrepresentation of seafood products has taken on a number of forms, many of which may have negative implications for environmental sustainability and/or human health.

A credible certification and ecolabeling programme such as the MSC goes a long way in addressing the environmental and traceability concerns noted above, though there was general consensus between attendees at the symposium that the standardising of seafood names on the local market also needs to be addressed. WWF-SA has initiated a project with the industry looking at developing a legislated list of acceptable common market names for seafood products which would enable consumers and regulators to prosecute unscrupulous operators and thereby stamp out mislabelling on South Africa’s seafood market. This will further serve to ‘level the playing field’ between responsible operators and operators that act in an unscrupulous manner and would assist consumers in making purchasing decisions based on the sustainability of a seafood product.

A standardised list of names for locally traded species is needed to help tackle mislabelling of fish and support efforts to improve traceability in seafood supply chains.  
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