Eco­-certification Trends in Fisheries

| |

A recent study by researchers in Newfoundland and North Carolina looks at new trends in eco-certification and the attendant power dynamics between the parties engaged on a global scale.

Sustainability Certifications for Fisheries

The study focuses on the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) administration of sustainability certifications for fisheries and newer programs that have followed in their wake in different places around the world.

Although the MSC’s guidelines have been written in a way that could be a global standard, different places are establishing different rules based on dominant relations of production and territorial claims. This creates a competition for establishing rules in a given place and showcases the interactions of NGOs, state actors, and the private sector.

USGS fishery biologists direct a trawl net as it is released into Lake Huron from a research fishing boat.
USGS fishery biologists direct a trawl net as it is released into Lake Huron from the RV/Grayling. Photo: Ray Argyle, USGS, public domain.

Global Fish Production and Sustainability

Fish production for global consumption has, for quite some time now, been an easy target used in calls for better regulation, examples of the tragedy of the commons, and broad arguments about the global economy.

On the other hand, sustainability endeavors like the MSC have been criticized as neocolonialist or imperialist. They are, however, voluntary and tools for influencing consumers rather than top­down control measures.

What the new certifications have in common ­ whether based in Japan, the United States, Iceland, or Canada ­ are appeals to ridding themselves of “outside influence” and maintaining a national reputation to retain control over their territory and a positive image in the eyes of consumers.

That outside influence refers primarily to MSC, whose guidelines deteriorate territorial boundaries and national control therein and are also costly to both industry and government.

Another influence is that, by expressing their certification in a place­based manner, these nations can showcase their sustainable practices not with the stamp of an NGO like MSC but with, for instance, one that reinforces in consumers a history of environmentally sound practices in Canadian fisheries.

The study wraps up their findings by saying that these new programs should not be viewed as simply authoritarian, and can be thought of as more accessible to the private sector and also introducing place­based strategies.

For more information, see the February 2016 edition of Geoforum.


Foley, P., & Havice, E. (2016). The rise of territorial eco-certifications: New politics of transnational sustainability governance in the fishery sectorGeoforum69, 24-33.



Photo of author
About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.