On the Road to Eco Certification

Eco-certification is a process by which an independent non-government organization ensures sustainable harvest practices have been followed and the fishery is measured in such a way that the fish stocks will survive and thrive over the long term.

The province of Manitoba has embarked on a multi-year program that will eventually see all commercially fished lakes in Manitoba certified as sustainable. This program is already in progress using one of the best-known organizations in the certification business.

When complete, Manitoba will be the first multi-lake certified area anywhere in the world.

For fishers, it is important to understand what this means. Why is certification so important? The number one reason is to preserve both current and future market access. Without market access, or with limited access, the end result would be a decline in demand and with it the value of our fish.

Consumers are demanding more and more proof of sustainability and zero long-term impact on the environment, and many companies have policies in place to meet eco-certification standards over the next few years.

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are committed to working with suppliers of wild-caught, sustainable seafood products and will de-list fish products from suppliers who refuse to improve the environmental performance of their operations.

Loblaw’s Oceans for Tomorrow Action Plan states all the seafood sold in their stores will come from sustainable sources by the end of 2013.

By the end of 2013 Sobeys will also stop selling products unless they are from a sustainable source or the supplier has an improvement plan in place. Sobeys has already de-listed all species of sharks, skates, rays, orange roughy and bluefin tuna, and today 71 of their Compliments private label products are eco-labeled.

And High Liner, one of Freshwater’s largest customers, has made it their goal to be 100 per cent sustainable by the end of 2013. Although Henry Demone, President and CEO of High Liner Foods, has said "this is by no means a finish line, [it is] another major step forward to meeting our sustainability commitment.”

Retailers are not the only companies that have sustainability goals in place – the hospitality industry is getting on board too.

By 2015, 100 per cent of the top ten Sysco Brand wild-caught seafood species (about 52 per cent of the complete Sysco Brand seafood product line) will be certified, under assessment or involved in fishery improvement projects with the World Wildlife Fund.

Some of the top ten menu trends for the National Restaurant Association are to emphasize the offering of sustainable seafood and even to highlight sustainability as a culinary theme.

The Mariott International hotel chain launched a sustainable seafood program called “Future Fish,” which states that at least 50 per cent of their seafood will come from certified sustainable fisheries and aquaculture farms.

Freshwater’s role in eco-certification will be to ensure ‘chain of custody’ by having proper labeling, record keeping and inventory control procedures in place so our customers can be assured uncertified fish is not mixed with their certified product.

Working towards certification is great news for our fishery – and for the lakes of Manitoba!