Sustainable Seafood Certification Labels - The Case For and Against Menhaden

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Sep 25, 2019
Kelvin D. Gorospe, Paul Carvalho, Lauren Josephs, and Austin Humphries

Global fisheries and marine ecosystems are under increasing pressure to supply the global seafood demand. Sustainable seafood certification labels are one way of empowering consumers to understand the wider effects of fisheries harvest and to make informed choices when purchasing seafood. This lesson plan introduces students to a prominent sustainable seafood certification program, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Before seafood products can be labelled as ‘certified sustainable seafood’, they must meet MSC’s standards for sustainability and be examined for their: (i) biological sustainability, (ii) environmental impact, and (iii) management effectiveness. These standards serve as a framework for guiding students through socio-environmental synthesis. Through this lesson plan, students are: (i) introduced to different definitions of the term ‘sustainable’, including the definition specifically used by the MSC, and (ii) tasked with reviewing science-based evidence used in assessing the sustainability of a particular fishery. Specifically, students are guided through a role-playing exercise in which they imagine themselves to be auditors tasked with examining pieces of evidence related to the recent certification of the U.S. Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) fishery. This particular fishery is a reduction fishery, meaning that menhaden are not directly consumed as seafood, but rather are processed into fish meal, fish solubles, and fish oil. Products that are made from U.S. Atlantic menhaden can now don the label of “certified sustainable seafood” but not without controversy.

Estimated time frame: 
A few class periods (i.e., less than 3 hours)
SES learning goals: 
  • Systems Thinking
  • Boundary-Crossing
  • Socio-Cultural Competencies

Key Words: seafood; sustainable certification labels; fisheries management; market-based incentives; menhaden; fish oil 

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