Sunday, October 18, 2009

Case #3 Pacific hake (whiting)

In the final stages of MSC certification (October 2009)

This stock straddles the territorial waters of Canada and the US. During 11-14 February 2008, a joint Canada-U.S. Pacific Hake / Whiting Stock Assessment Review (STAR) Panel met in Seattle, Washington, to review three stock assessment documents authored by US and Canadian scientists. The revised documents and the STAR Panel review were forwarded to the Pacific Fishery Management Council and its advisory groups, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) managers and the PSARC (DFO Pacific Scientific Advice Review Committee) Groundfish Sub-committee.

For the last number of years, the stock assessments were done using the Stock Synthesis (SS2) assessment model by Helser and colleagues (US fisheries scientists). Two alternative assessment models were also presented to the STAR Panel by Canadian scientists, TINSS (Martell) and ADAPT VPA (Sinclair and Grandin). The ADAPT VPA was deemed unreliable but the TINSS model provides a viable alternative to SS2. The STAR Panel chose to endorse the SS2 model as the basis for providing advice to the mangers even though the TINSS model provided arguably plausible but more pessimistic estimates.

The Canadians filed a minority report, a rare event in stock assessment circles where consensus is the norm. The Canadians claimed that the advice from the SS2 of a large increase in the “allowable biological catch” (ABC), if implemented, had a high risk of causing serious harm to the hake stock. They complained that the TINSS model, which was substantially more pessimistic regarding the status of the stock, was, for all intents and purposes, ignored by the STAR review panel. They suggested that prudent management should reduce the allowable catch, not increase it, given the state of the stock.

Throughout all of this, the third party assessment team put together by TAVEL Certification Inc., a private consulting company, continued its assessment of the Pacific hake fishery relative to the MSC standard and reached the conclusion in May 2009 that the fishery was indeed sustainable. An objection to certification was jointly filed by Oceana and Monterey Bay Aquarium on 10 June 2009, during the formal objections period. The Independent Adjudicator Michael Lodge, a lawyer retained by the MSC, denied the objection in early October stating that "Having heard arguments from all parties, supported by written submissions and supporting documentation, I find that the grounds for objection are not made out and there is no basis to remand the Determination to the certification body for further consideration...I confirm the Final Report and Determination issued by TAVEL Certification Inc. on 19 May 2009."

So there we have it, a fishery on a stock that looks like it is either close to the lowest spawning stock biomass ever recorded, (the more optimistic SS2 model) or at the lowest spawning stock biomass level ever (the TINSS model) is deemed “sustainable” and can carry the MSC logo. What are your views? Was the process fair? Were the objections valid? Did Michael Lodge uphold the interests of the resource owners, the civil public?

SS2 Model estimates

TINSS model estimates


  1. Even if the more optimistic model scenario is correct, it looks a lot like a "dead cat bounce" to me (no offence to cat lovers)

  2. I suggest you look at the recent reassessment of the South Georgia toothfish fishery. There is evidence of overfishing in this fishery, as reported by Shust and Kozlov (2006), yet this is never mentioned - even to disagree with their findings. MSC is continuing to plow forward with other toothfish certifications in the area, no doubt based on the "success" of the South Georgia fishery.

  3. Thursday, 22 October 2009 09:39
    THE Pacific hake mid-water trawl fishery, the largest on the West Coast of both the United States and Canada. has earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery.