Industry expert breaks down everything you need to know about sustainable fishing

Following our MSC certification, we were given the opportunity to sit down with Jo-Anne McCrea, an auditor from Bio-Inspecta who rigorously assessed Iluminos’ sustainability practices throughout the entire supply chain before certifying our Nordic Marine Collagen with the rare blue tick of approval.

Jo has assessed hundreds of fisheries around the globe and even led the seafood charter for WWF Australia— our country’s most trusted conservation organisation that protects endangered species and habitats. She’s also worked with brands, retailers and producers to appraise seafood supply chains, identify improvement strategies and enforce the development of responsible and sustainable sourcing processes and production practices.

Working across the supply chain from seafood retailers down to the fishing vessels and fish farms, Jo has collaborated with private, government and conservation sectors to make sustainable fishing a reality. She strongly believes in educating consumers and enforcing sustainable practices throughout the entire supply chain, guaranteeing our oceans will be teeming with life for generations to come.

From debunking claims made in Netflix’s Seaspiracy documentary to explaining how ingredients are responsibly sourced for the least amount of environmental impact, our chat with Jo was eye opening.

Iluminos: We are still celebrating our MSC certification and it’s an honour that we’ve been recognised and rewarded for our impactful sustainability practices. We’ve always endeavoured to leave as light a footprint on the environment as possible, without compromising on quality ingredients. How does having this official certification set us apart from other beauty supplement brands on the market?

Jo: You can legitimately say you are doing something good for the marine environment. You are raising awareness and your customers should value what you have done. You’re leading the way, and showing your consumers that your products are safe, sustainably sourced and can be trusted.

Wild-caught and sustainable Nordic Marine Collagen to help support beautiful hair, glowing skin and strong nails.

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Iluminos: The documentary Seaspiracy, which dropped on Netflix earlier this year, denied the existence of sustainable fishing practices. Given you’ve assessed many fisheries over the last two decades, we’d love to know your expert opinion on this?

Jo: That was incredibly disappointing. There are a lot of people who have been working for decades trying to solve this issue. It is not simple. It is a complex, global issue. To have framed it in a way where they implied sustainable fishing is non-existent is disappointing and it does more harm than good. It would’ve been helpful to have taken time to create and tell a story that led people to actively do something different that could have an impact. We know sustainably exists and that’s exactly what the Marine Stewardship Council was tasked with— writing the rule book on how to conduct a sustainable fishery. It was disappointing for them not to go into detail about that.

What Seaspiracy did do was highlight the challenges we face, none of which are new to us. At a global level, 30% of fish stocks are overfished, 60% are fully fished (meaning you cannot fish there anymore without pushing them into an overfished state), and 10% of fish stocks are safe. When we talk about those figures, they’re about target stock.

Iluminos: Seaspiracy also took aim at the MSC, questioning its certification processes and enforcement of sustainable fishing across the board. Is it safe to say you disagree with this position?

Jo: There is such a thing as sustainable fishing and it is clearly written into the MSC’s standards. There isn’t another organisation around the world that has the same level of governance or scientific rigour. The MSC is regarded by most as the gold standard for sustainable fishing. They set the scientific bar and determine what needs to be done to meet it.

There’s also a governance system that sits around the MSC. Their standard is publicly available and anybody can read the level of detail they have provided. Anyone in the world can put their hand up, submit data and be a part of the assessment. All assessments are made public so people can look at the standards and our judgements. The entire process is completely transparent. You can see it for yourself on a product-specific basis by looking at those assessments that are readily and always available online.

The MSC has the best standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Any food production or activity by humans has an impact. The idea of sustainable fishing is to make sure those impacts are minimised and reversible. Their standard is set on a level where you cannot have a detrimental impact on habitats and ecosystems.

Iluminos: Is the MSC continuously improving its standards based on new data?

Jo: Yes! They have an ongoing program and a large standards review. They are always looking at the gaps in the program and going through technical processes to work out where they can go next. They have to have an improvement structure and they will never have just one overarching standard. The idea is that you bring the industry up to this point and then keep improving based on new science and new information. There is always a progressive improvement in the fishing industry and progressive improvements in the standard over time. The MSC has the best available resources and it’s always improving. They will say this themselves! The danger is trying to say that it’s perfect and there’s no problem here. That’s not the case for any production industry. The MSC is upfront about that and they’re working hard to always make improvements.

When the MSC finds fisheries that aren’t quite there yet in terms of sustainability, the solution is not to delete them from your supply chain— that creates no conservation impact. That’s a quick and cheap way to get ahead. We want companies to invest in fisheries, give them a long term contract, get them the MSC level of certification, and then you’ve had a conservation impact. That’s where the MSC provides global level improvements.

Iluminos: What do you foresee happening in the next decade in terms of sustainability and safe fishing practices?

Jo: We are seeing an increase in the awareness and uptake of sustainable products across the board. When COVID-19 hit, we thought there would be less of an investment in sustainability and more of a focus on economic and commercial issues, but we have seen the opposite. Companies that have been able to survive the pandemic have slowed down and been strategic about their sourcing methods. They want to bounce back green and the connection between the natural environment and human health is more evident than ever.

We are also seeing an increased interest in traceability. People want to know where their food comes from. There are solutions being developed around traceability and it’s not unusual to have video cameras on board vessels so there’s the capacity to prove, for instance, that no turtles were caught when fish was captured. Real-time analysis and monitoring on ships is the future! The combination of sustainability, traceability and knowing much more about where the fish was caught, how it was caught, and what it was caught alongside. There is a huge focus on sustainability throughout the entire supply chain.

Iluminos: Do you foresee MSC certification becoming a beauty industry standard?

Jo: That would be great! Some companies aren’t even aware that they can make decisions based on sustainability. It will be really exciting and very impactful if the beauty industry follows down this path.

Iluminos: What are some practical ways we as consumers can increase the sustainability of our routine?

Jo: Recognising labels and buying based on sustainability. You don’t need to worry about the stock status, or the turtles, all of the work has been done for you. Being aware of eco-labels and checking every purchase means you’re creating a conservation impact.

Iluminos: What’s the take-home message here, Jo?

Jo: Firstly, the impacts are real. In combating what Seaspiracy claimed, we shouldn’t shy away from the fact that when done poorly, commercial fishing can have an impact, and that is exactly why the MSC exists! There is a possible solution and that’s what the MSC standard is there to do – enforce it. We always need to be solutions focused.

We have Iluminos and so many other great companies around the world that want to help the planet, are aware of sustainability practices, and incorporate them into their business model. That then means consumers have a greater understanding and that has a huge impact.

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