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Vital Choice & MSC: Partners in Saving Wild Seafood
We’re celebrating 13 years of partnering with MSC to pioneer certified-sustainable seafood

11/18/2015 By Craig Weatherby
Ever seen a blue "Certifed Sustainable Seafood” sign in a seafood case?

It's the certification seal – featuring a stylized fish – awarded by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The nonprofit organization – also known as MSC – began certifying sustainable wild fisheries 15 years ago.

That was just two years before the founding of Vital Choice, which marked the beginning of our partnership with MSC.

The MSC was co-founded in 1997 by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, one of the world's largest seafood processors.

The gold standard of seafood sustainability
To ensure its credibility, in 1999 the MSC became an independent nonprofit with its own charter and governance.

MSC awarded its first sustainability certification in 2000, when many wild fish were under serious threat from excessive, often illegal fishing.

Although that threat remains, it's shrunk significantly due to growing consumer demand for sustainably harvested seafood. 

While there are now dozens of nonprofit organizations committed to sustainable fisheries management, MSC is still viewed as the "gold standard.”

Vital Choice and MSC: Partners at the outset
We began shipping wild seafood – mostly wild Alaskan salmon at first – 13 years ago.

Vital Choice was founded in 2002 by Randy Hartnell (pictured above) – who spent 20 years as an Alaska fisherman – and his wife Carla.

As a fishing family, they knew firsthand the critical importance of protecting precious, irreplaceable species like wild Alaskan salmon. 

Beyond the importance of wild seafood to fishing families and communities, they also knew that the ocean is a web of life, with each species depending on many others.

So, long before shipping the first Vital Choice package, Randy and Carla decided to offer only sustainably harvested seafood.

And they wanted to source as much seafood as possible from fisheries certified sustainable by the most credible authority: MSC.

Their goals were to support seafood sustainability via MSC, and solidify their fledgling firm's commitment to sustainability.

As it happens, Randy and Carla's decision meant that Vital Choice became one of the first MSC licensees in the world!

We've also been an early and consistent financial supporter of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, and we've distributed countless MBA Seafood Watch pocket guides in our packages, and at conferences and events.

MSC's two-tiered certification
MSC certifies the sustainability of seafood in two different ways.

First, MSC certifies the sustainability of wild capture marine and freshwater species, using the criteria of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Second, MSC's Chain of Custody program tracks seafood from MSC-certified fisheries through the entire supply chain ... from the source fishery to the packaged product.

Annual DNA testing is required of all MSC-labeled products, and less than 1% have been found mislabeled ... proof that their tracking program is virtually foolproof.

Why does some Vital Choice seafood lack the MSC seal?
Then as now, not all Vital Choice seafood bears the MSC seal.

Many Vital Choice products come from MSC-certified fisheries, and are therefore eligible to bear the blue MSC seal. 

But we can't – or don't seek to – place the MSC label on every eligible product, for three reasons:
  1. The fishery in question has not yet petitioned for MSC certification, or the certification may have lapsed for administrative or political reasons (e.g., MSC did not certify all Alaska salmon harvested in 2015; that fishery is expected to resume MSC certification in 2016).
  2. The product is widely considered sustainable. Because the Alaska State Constitution mandates sustainable management of all fisheries, this category includes all wild Alaskan seafood, such as salmon, halibut, sablefish, scallops, and crab.
  3. The cost – in dollars and staff time – to obtain and maintain MSC certification for specific products is quite high, as it involves substantial annual fees and time-consuming audits.
As to the third reason, we are still a small company with the narrow profit margins typical of food retailers ... so we can't always afford to place the blue MSC seal on a product.

We're proud to have been an early partner of MSC ... and we continue to promote and support its essential mission as much as possible.

MSC-certified products at Vital Choice
Currently, you will see the blue MSC seal on the following products, indicating they've earned MSC's Chain of Custody certification:
Our sustainability commitment remains solid
We strive to ensure that every Vital Choice fish and shellfish product is sustainability harvested.

So we only purchase seafood that meets the strict (and closely similar) standards set by MSC, the state of Alaska, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

In place of the MSC seal, many Vital Choice products bear the State of Alaska's own blue seal ... which means they're from a wild Alaskan fishery, and therefore meet Alaska's strict sustainability standards.

If you have any comments or questions about MSC or seafood sustainability, we'd love to hear from you!