HomeOpinionNever Underestimate the Impact of a Label

Never Underestimate the Impact of a Label

May 26 of this year marked the fourth anniversary of the Bay of Fundy, Scotian Shelf and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence lobster trap fishery achieving certification to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Fisheries Standard.

So, how big of a deal is this anniversary? How important was this lucrative fishery getting the famous MSC blue stamp? It was and still is pretty important actually.

Sure, southwest Nova Scotia is home to one of the largest populations of American lobster in the world, but those lobsters still have to be sold somewhere. The main commercial market for the lobster caught in this region is the United States, followed by Europe (primarily Belgium, France and the U.K.) and Asia (primarily China, Japan and South Korea).

Lobster is sold in significant quantities both in live and processed (frozen lobster tails, whole frozen and lobster meat) formats to all these markets — and the majority of consumers in these markets want to know their seafood comes from a sustainable fishery. Thus, the need for the MSC certification.

The blue MSC ecolabel demonstrates that lobster caught here come from a well-managed, environmentally sustainable source.

The MSC certificate includes more than 4,000 licensed harvesters operating exclusively in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 23, 25, 26A and 26B (Unit of Certification 1), LFAs 27 to 33 (Unit of Certification 2), LFA 34 (Unit of Certification 3), and LFAs 35-38 (Unit of Certification 4).

At the time, this Maritime fishery joined an elite group of 259 MSC certified fisheries across the globe that are helping to ensure healthy marine ecosystems for the future.

It was also a feather in the cap of the MSC organization in bringing this fishery into its fold because in 2014, the landed value of all lobster fisheries in Canada was $853 million, the highest of any fishery in the country. Of that, C$671 million, or 79 per cent, was generated by independent harvesters in the Bay of Fundy, Scotian Shelf and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence lobster trap fishery, which constitutes the economic backbone of many coastal communities across Atlantic Canada. In 2014, landings for the fishery were 63,366 metric tonnes according to preliminary figures from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), or approximately 75 per cent of the national total landings for lobster.

But this certification did not originate without a tremendous amount of work and cooperation from the industry in this region.

The driving force behind this MSC drive was the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Lobster Eco-Certification Society, which was formed by a collective of interested parties including harvesters, dealers/buyers, shippers and processors, for the purpose of achieving certification for the fishery.

The Society combined the majority of fishermen’s associations in the two provinces, most major processors and many other shippers, buyers and dealers that have supplied lobster from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to world markets for generations.

“Attaining MSC certification is a tremendous accomplishment for the Canadian lobster industry,” said Eugene O’Leary, who was President of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Lobster Eco-Certification Society at the time. 

“It is the result of industry cooperation across provincial borders and with competitors, which is in itself an achievement within an industry known for its fierce independence. It helps ensure the long-term viability of the resource and favorably positions the largest lobster fishery in Canada in growing international markets. I am personally very proud of all the work that has been done and will continue to be done to maintain certification,” O’Leary noted in May 2015.

MSC certification requires regular surveillance audits of all certified fisheries. The 2019 surveillance audit of the Bay of Fundy, Scotian Shelf and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence lobster trap fishery is currently underway. All eyes will be on May 25, 2020, when the current MSC certificate is set to expire. Hopefully no issues will occur to impede this important ecolabel being renewed for another five years.