Can a fishery be sustainable if customers waste the fish? That's the provocative question raised by scientists Daniel Pauly and Jennifer Jaquet in their critique of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery. Pauly and Jacquet say it's wasteful and wrong to use anchovies for fishmeal instead of feeding people, so it would be wrong to certify the fishery as sustainable.
For me, this stretches too far the definition of sustainable fishing. It's already difficult to find consensus around the definition of sustainable fisheries when it's just about fishing. But this messy debate gets far worse if we include issues like what happens to the fish.
Sustainability should be about not catching too many fish, limiting bycatch, and protecting habitat. We can, and do, debate the proper benchmarks for overfishing and bycatch limits. But if we get into debates about ethical uses of fish, there is no limit to the issues that someone may want to include.
Today, Pauly and Jacquet criticize feeding fish to animals not people. What's the next complaint about how fish get used? Are high-priced fish unsustainable because they're just for the privileged wealthy? Is it a problem to waste fish in processing or preparation? Is a fishery unsustainable if mercury levels in the fish are too high? Can you lose your sustainability certificate if you run a good fishery but the people who buy your fish do bad things?
Certification of fishery sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council addresses some ethical issues. But it's a mistake to attempt to use the MSC process to address every perceived ethical problem in the seafood supply chain.