Seafood consumers could have to pay more for locally caught produce, according to State Fisheries Minister Norman Moore, who announced an international group would vet whether WA’s commercial fisheries were sustainable.
Mr Moore said today shoppers could end up paying a premium for WA-sourced fish if it could be proven they were caught on an environmentally friendly basis.
The veteran minister made the comments as he announced a London-based group, the Marine Stewardship Council, had been chosen to assess whether the State’s commercial fisheries were sustainable.
However, green groups immediately expressed scepticism of the announcement, with the Conservation Council claiming the process would be hijacked by fishing interests.
Mr Moore said the move was at arms length of Government despite the State pitching in $14.5 million to help fishers go through the accreditation process.
He said that although success was not guaranteed, if a fishery was deemed sustainable it could pave the way for access to lucrative markets in which people would pay more for eco-friendly products.
The announcement comes after giant Australian supermarket chain Coles said earlier this year that it would only accept "certified" sustainable fish from 2015.
In February, Department of Fisheries boss Stewart Smith said it would become increasingly important for commercial operators to gain third party accreditation.
Mr Smith said if fishers failed to embrace the concept they risked getting locked out of a growing number of markets.
“The Government, which supports the fishing industry, can only do so much,” Mr Moore said.
“To reap the benefits that MSC certification provides it’s important that retailers and restaurants also get on board.
“They’re an important part of the seafood supply chain and determining consumer choices.”
Rupert Howes, MSC’s chief executive, said it would take several years to run the ruler over the 46 WA commercial fisheries that are likely to apply for accreditation.
In a reference to recent hysterical debate in Australia over marine parks and the super trawler, Mr Howes said the council used scientific evidence rather than emotion when forming its decisions.
“We’re pro-fishing, pro eating fish – we just want to see it done globally on a sustainable basis,” Mr Howes said.
Conservation Council of WA marine co-ordinator Tim Nicol welcomed the announcement, but called on authorities to ensure environmental groups had a seat at the table.
“We are worried that, despite entering into this arrangement with MSC, the Department of Fisheries will continue to give lip service to conservation concerns raised by the community and scientists such as sea lion deaths in gillnets and dolphin deaths in the Pilbara trawl,” Mr Nicol said.
“Certification needs to be about improving the performance of our fisheries and the relationship with the community, not just trying to get a tick for business as usual.”
Supermarket giant Woolworths, which sells a range of MSC-certified seafood, said its long-term aim was to source all its wild-caught seafood from sustainable sources.
Conservation group WWF-Australia said sustainable commercial fishing practices would secure the long-term viability of the industry while better protecting the state’s marine resources.
“Every single element of the fishery will be analysed by independent assessors, including gear types, impacts of operations on the ecosystem and the health of fish stocks, protecting marine life at every stage of the food chain,” WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said.“This could add a new level of credibility to the fishing industry and shows that the Barnett Government is serious about making WA’s fisheries leaders in sustainability.”
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