How Other Environmentalists Self-Regulate

I'm watching my mother prepare Tilapia fish for dinner tonight.

A decade or so ago, I thought that if I bought "farm raised" fish, that I'd be doing something good.  It seemed logical that fish raised on a farm would involve less ocean fishing and less risk to dolphins, etc.

As it turns out, I had not done my homework.  Fish are carnivores, you see, and the fish raised on the farm are fed fish meal.  As the fish farms got bigger, fishing boats were sent out with nets that were less picky about what they caught.  If everything you catch is to be made into fish meal for the farmed fish, you care less about what you are catching.  The net effect of fish farming began to smell bad.

Still, fish farms are no doubt easier to regulate.  So now some of the fish farms are making strides towards sustainability.  The Marine Stewardship Council is an organization representing a partnership of commercial fisheries and government and non-profit agencies which certify whether a fishing practice is environmentally sound.

According to, the USA's tilapia fish farms are doing a pretty good job of keeping pollution from the environment and maintaining "low-risk" practices.  The other main sources of farm raised tilapia are China and Central and South America.

I am going to make an effort to buy tilapia raised on sustainable farms.  If the USA farms are better than the Chinese farms, that's good.  But the science needs to show that the lifecycle of these farms is truly better and that the USA farms are really creating practices which the foreign farms can and should emulate.

If the USA brand was actually promoting a wasteful practice (like destroying working video display units), it would severely damage not only the certification process and the brand.  It would be damaging to the environmentalist movement itself.  What I like about Blue Ocean Institute and MSC, from what I have read so far, is that they appear to be scientific in their approaches.  These are apparently good organizations for WR3A, ISRI, R2 and BAN E-Stewards to emulate.   If it turns out that the USA fisheries are promoting a USA practice they are stronger at and ignoring a beneficial practice which the Chinese fisheries are better at, of course, that would be horrible.  I believe that R2, by welcoming overseas electronic recyclers and refurbishers to get certified and come under the tent, is on much stronger footing than a standard which (mis) interprets Basel Convention to ban exports based on the country, regardless of how good the country is at what it does.

The E-Stewards is nation based first and practice-based second.   Countries are defined as ineligible based on "OECD" standards, even though some of the same countries manufacture the electronics and have most of the repair and refurbishing expertise, for warranty and non-warranty repair and reuse.  While the MSC does today recommend tilapia from USA fish farms, it does NOT do so based on the race, language, culture or national origin of the men and women raising the fish.  E-Stewards has created a standard which no African or Asian non-OECD businessperson or employee can ever have access to.  There is a glass wall erected.  If you are banned from recycling regardless of how good a job you do, why should you invest in a better practice?

Here's a smart question:  Which came first, the practice or the standard?  This is a problem of how you define stakeholders.  Both R2 and BAN E-Stewards were weak on this point in that they did not include consumers or anyone from overseas importing countries.  But BAN was weakest, in that they have defined a standard using stakeholders who already "on board".   This was profoundly flawed approach.

R2, the Responsible Recycling certification standard which has been embraced by EPA, WR3A, and ISRI is a smarter, better product because it sees people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.  It is less likely to become a tool of investors who are trying to promote their own company based on geographic, planned obsolescence, or protectionist standards.

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