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The Marine Stewardship Council is an international organization based in London that aims to promote healthy and sustainable fisheries. As part of its healthy fishery program, the Marine Stewardship Council offers certification to fisheries and has an extensive education campaign to encourage consumers to think about the source of their fish. Marine Stewardship Council certification is the result of a series of inspections and continued monitoring, and indicates to consumers that the marine product they are purchasing was produced with healthy and sustainable aims in mind.
Overfishing only became recognized as a serious problem in the 1980s, when many formerly plentiful fisheries began to experience serious declines in stocks. A number of species, including orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, had been driven to the brink of extinction by heavy fishing practices. In addition to endangering the marine environment, overfishing also hurt small fishing operations, which could not afford deep dredging factory ships to get at dwindling fish stocks.
The Marine Stewardship Council arose in response to this issue, in an effort to convince individual consumers that they could help to assure the health of the marine environment. The Marine Stewardship Council was established in 1997 as a cooperative venture between Unilver, one of the world's largest producers of seafood products, and the World Wildlife Federation. In 1999, the Marine Stewardship Council became an independent organization and achieved nonprofit status.
The Marine Stewardship Council believes that consumers are concerned about overfishing, not least because it affects the price of fish at the table. As a result, the council rewards sustainable fishing with labeling that indicates the fish has come from a Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery. The Marine Stewardship Council uses third party organizations called certification bodies to inspect, monitor, and certify fisheries. Fisheries interested in Marine Stewardship Council certification apply voluntarily for inspection and agree to abide by certain principles in return for certification.
Marine Stewardship Council certification begins with the overall condition of the fish stock. It must be determined whether there are enough healthy fish in a range of ages for fishing to be sustainable. If this criterion is satisfied, the certification body looks at the impact of the fishery on the marine environment, including other species of fish, mammals, and plants in the vicinity. Finally, the Marine Stewardship Council looks at fishery practices, including policies, management procedures, and education. If the criteria are satisfied, the fishery will be certified.
Consumers can look for the distinctive blue label with a white check mark on fish products to see if they are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. In addition, they can participate in educational programs such as Seafood Watch, sponsored in part by the council. Using information provided about which fish are sustainable to eat, consumers can make informed choices about their food and the impact it has on the marine environment.