It takes real wanderlust to hop in your car and drive across the African continent to get home, and that’s just what Michael Marriott, Programme Manager for the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) AMESA region did after a working stint in the United Kingdom.
This Howick local and keen schoolboy aquarist credits travel for his broad outlook on life; a character trait that stands him in good stead at the MSC.
“My role at MSC is very varied as someone who does outreach to encourage uptake of the standard. I work with a multitude of stakeholders, from fisheries to Government, and supply chain partners to consumers and NGOs. It’s never boring.”
Indeed, Michael and his colleagues have quite the tightrope to walk. On the one hand, these environmentalists must set the bar, the MSC standard, to balance the need for sustainability against the effectiveness of certification as a tool to drive change. That is, ensure that the industry leaves enough fish in the water so that fish populations can continue to be viable, while at the same time providing enough incentive for fisheries to commit to constant improvements.
It’s a journey, which is something Michael is very familiar with, being someone who loves the outdoors and travelling with his family.
“We try to bring everyone on board in using the MSC certification as a tool, but the fishing sector is complex and the various stakeholders, from fisheries to environmental NGOs, tend to see things very differently. We operate in a middle ground which can be very difficult to navigate.”
The role certification plays in the sustainable seafood movement is quite unique, adds Michael. “To ensure the MSC remains a tool for incentivising fisheries to make improvements, we need to create the market pull, we need to be setting a standard within reach of the best fisheries, we need to identify the fisheries that can achieve that standard and identify those that can benefit from working towards it
“Some viewpoints would have us lower the bar to create more momentum for fisheries to comply with the standard, others feel it should represent only the best. As a stakeholder driven programme, we need to find the balance that will deliver the greatest impacts to fisheries sustainability,” says Michael.
Seafood sustainability, he adds, offers many opportunities for existing and new entrants to the fishing sector. “The increasing spotlight on environmental issues opens up opportunities because there’s a lot of focus on fisheries science and management. As my super lifter, my father encouraged me to identify where my passions were and to pursue them, which led me to my career in environmental work and eventually the MSC.”
Considering the goal of many NGOs and conservation bodies is to see sustainable, environmentally responsible fishing practices, Michael’s dream is for the MSC to be adopted as a tool of choice for helping to bring this about. “We are all trying to achieve the same thing, but we’re coming at it from different angles. If NGOs were to promote the MSC as the direction they want fisheries to move in, this would be a wonderful legacy to have left in the fishing sector.” South Africans should care about our long coastline and oceans, not least because we’re fortunate to have this nature on our doorstep, but also because demand for seafood continues to rise and still plays an important role in food security, and because for our country it remains an important contributor to the economy, Michael concludes: “It may fly under the radar and not be seen as something that affects the average South African day-to-day, but it certainly employs a lot of people and that means we need to hold all the players accountable for preserving this natural asset.”