Tracy Cooper

Document Type



Since the dawn of humanity, fishing has been a major source of food and has provided jobs and economic benefits for a significant percentage of the world's population. That fact has not changed. Today, according to the 2002 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global population depends upon fisheries resources for fifteen percent of total animal protein supplies. In 2000, 22.8 million people were employed in marine capture fisheries and global production of fish and other aquatic products from capture fisheries totaled 94.8 million tons. The total sale value of world capture fisheries production in 2000 was estimated at $81 billion, while international trade in fish and aquatic products grossed $55.2 billion. These numbers reflect a lucrative industry, the health and continued viability of which is essential to feed and employ a sizeable portion of the world's population. However, ocean resources, "although renewable, are not infinite and need to be properly managed, if their contribution to the nutritional, economic and social well-being of the growing world's population [is] to be sustained." Despite the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ("LOS Convention"), which was intended to provide a framework for fisheries management, by 1991 "[c]lear signs of over-exploitation of important fish stocks, modifications of ecosystems, significant economic losses, and international conflicts of management and fish trade threatened the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the contribution of fisheries to food supply .... ." Consequently, there was a need for new approaches to fisheries management, which would take into account conservation, environmental, social and economic factors. In response to this need, the FAO developed and adopted a voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Code of Conduct), with corresponding technical guidelines for its implementation. Likewise, individual nations and regional governmental organizations have instituted measures for the conservation of ocean resources, sometimes creating their own codes of conduct. Yet, due to structural and political difficulties, it appears that state and international legal efforts are unlikely to provide a sufficient means of turning the tide against fisheries depletion. Other potential resources and regimes must be explored as means of encouraging sustainable development. Eco-labeling and product certification techniques have been suggested as a means of encouraging the development of sustainable fisheries through market-based incentives and supplementing national and international legal conservation efforts. Notably, the promotion of fisheries sustainability through eco-labeling and product certification techniques is endorsed by the FAO. Generally, "eco-labeling" is the affixing of a label to a product indicating its superior environmental attributes, to inform the consumer of those attributes and encourage product sales, while creating economic incentives for the satisfaction of environmental and social criteria. Product certification, a subset of eco-labeling, involves the affixing of a label to a product indicating environmental assessment and product approval by a third party organization that consumers know and trust. Product certification is desirable over simple producer claims because of the additional credibility provided by the certification process. The term eco-labeling is commonly used to refer to both eco-labeling and product certification techniques. Eco-labeling has specialized application in the marine fisheries context, where "[p]roduct certification is commonly a measure mandated by governments, often mutually agreed upon by regional fisheries management organizations, in order to ensure that only legally harvested and reported fish landings can be traded and sold in domestic or international markets." The purpose of fisheries product certification is to "prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing" in order to comply with international law. This Article explores the potential utility of eco-labeling in promoting marine fisheries sustainability. Part I of this Article describes the current status of marine fisheries management, discusses relevant international law, and explains the difficulties surrounding the creation of a sustainable marine fishery. Part II explains in greater detail the concept of eco-labeling, how it works, its relationship with international law, and its general advantages and disadvantages. Part III discusses the application of ecolabeling techniques to the promotion of sustainable marine fisheries, including the demand for "sustainably harvested" seafood, the current ecolabeling efforts underway by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and other organizations, and the issues that may ultimately impact program effectiveness.



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