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First international standard to be developed for environmentally and socially sustainable fisheries

04 July 2014

The French standardisation agency, Afnor (Agence française de normalisation), has suggested that there is a need to create an internationally recognised sustainability standard for maritime fisheries products, taking into account a wide variety of criteria (i.e. going further than only environmental sustainability) which could be used as a framework for all labels relating to sustainable fisheries. Until now, there has been no European or international standard that uses a coherent set of criteria for fisheries sustainability. Afnor noted that the number of labels relating to sustainable fisheries is increasing, but emphasised that what these labels – whether private ecolabels, fishing fleet commitments, or national labels in Iceland, Norway, Canada – cover is difficult to compare. Afnor’s sustainable fisheries project manager, Bernadette Ruetch, explained that, most of the time, the criteria “forget the social component of sustainability”.

Norway, Canada, Malaysia, Mauritius, Spain, Thailand and the USA, as well as professional organisations – mainly from France, such as the French tuna seiners’ organisation, Orthongel –have positively responded to the suggestion, and Afnor is now piloting an international initiative with these stakeholders to create an ISO standard (ISO standard 19565) which should be published by the end of 2016. It will be voluntary and will define the minimum requirements for certification of sustainable maritime fisheries products.

However, various aspects need be taken into account:

  •      environmental: appropriate management of resources and reduction of impacts on ecosystems;
  •      social: improvement of work conditions and security.

Some requirements will be defined regarding traceability, labelling of products, control and the associated certification process.

Editorial comment

One of the main issues regarding eco-certification is to define the minimum standards that need to be complied with. FAO has already set up guidelines for this purpose – to date the only international reference – but they are rather general and imprecise. In the framework of the Common Market Organisation for Fish Products reform (as part of the Common Fisheries Policy reform), the EC made the proposal to develop minimum standards, but this proposal was not retained by the co-legislators. Instead, it was decided that by the end of 2015 a feasibility study should be presented to the Parliament and Council, regarding the possibility of either establishing a European ecolabel for fish products, or to define minimum criteria. The potential development of an ISO norm will have to be accounted for in the EC feasibility study. Indeed, if an ISO norm were established and to become a reference, certifying bodies as well as retailers promoting eco-certified products would be audited against this norm.

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