Sunday, October 25, 2009

MSC Looking for a new Independent Adjudicator

I guess the term for the current MSC Independent Adjudicator, Michael Lodge, is up and the call is out to find a new laywer:

The job add states:
"Core to the voluntary certification process for fisheries is an objections procedure that provides for an orderly, structured process by which specific concerns about certification decisions reached by independent certifiers can be formally lodged, reviewed and resolved, fairly and transparently. Within this procedure, the Independent Adjudicator is responsible for the review of contested certifier decisions that is independent of the certifier, objector and the MSC, to ensure that such decisions on certification meet the MSC standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries."

There are two "independents" in the above text - the independent certifiers and independent adjudicator.

How independent are the independents in the MSC process?

The first there are the "independent" consulting companies (Moody and Tavel are two) certified by MSC. Their motives are profit. If an industry asks for certification then the consulting company first does a confidential pre-assessment. If the fishery passes the pre-assessment it then goes into full certification. We never hear about any failures at the pre-assessment stage because it is confidential. If the fishery goes into full assessment, while there may be conditions attached, there is never failure to achieve certification (as far as Fishyfellow knows).

If an objection is lodged to the certification, then it is the job of the "Independent" Adjudicator, on salary to MSC, to decide if the objections are valid. Since the objections are likely to be on technical issues related to the interpretation of the available scientific data, it is a tough job for a lawyer. And if he/she is salaried by MSC, how independent can he/she really be?

Since the above views may be ill-informed, it would be good to hear the counter-argument in support of the claim of independence in the MSC certification and objection process. 

Feel free to comment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Case #4 South Georgia Patagonian toothfish longline

aka Chilean sea bass
Certified as sustainable in March 2004.
Recertified on the 17th September 2009.

Thanks to Claire (Comment, Oct 19, 2009) who suggested we look at this fishery.

The Patagonian toothfish lives in deep waters (from 300 to 3,500 metres) on seamounts and continental shelves and around most sub-Antarctic islands. It is a slow-growing, late maturing species and therefore not reslient to fishing pressure. The Patagonian toothfish fisheries off Argentina and around Prince Edward and Marion Islands (under South African jurisdiction) were fished to commercial extinction over short period of time and illegal fishing around Crozet Islands has also substantially reduced that population.

Obviously there would be concerns about the South Georgia fishery as well. A paper in Russian by Shust and Kozlov in 2006 (Вопросы ихтиологии 46(6):791-298) found a decrease in average size and a high percentage catch of immature fish compensating for a reduction in the fraction of large fish over time in the commercial fishery. These could be interpreted as signs for concern.

However, the stock assessments produced by CCAMLR (an RFMO) and used by the consultants for the MSC certification suggest a stock that is being fished down from high unexploited levels towards Bmsy. While not yet at Bmsy, it is projected to reach that level in about 2040 at the current harvest of about 4kt. The last assessment was in 2007 and there will be a new one this year (2009).

After 1985 the longline fishery moved from summer day-setting to winter night-setting to mitigate seabird bycatch. Navy patrols deter IUU and there is strict catch documentation with 100% observer coverage.

The CCAMLR objective for the stock is to maintain spawning biomass above 50% of unfished levels with probability 0.5 and to ensure probability of spawning biomass being below 20% of unfished levels is never greater than 0.1. These conditions appear to be currently met and should continue to be met if the catch continues at the current level of about 4kt.

So, on the face of it, the MSC certification consistent with a sustainble fishery.
Please comment on errors or ommissions – Fishyfellow is not very familiar with this fishery.

Latest assessment from ppt by R. Hillary, C. Edwards, Division of Biology, Imperial College London

Projection from CAMLR assessment in 2007 (broken lines indicate 80% credible limits)

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Case #2 NZ Hoki fishery

Certified as sustainable by Marine Stewardship Council in March 2001 and recertified sustainable in October 2007

Fishing methods for NZ hoki include mid-water trawling and bottom trawling. The fishery is managed as one quota management system (QMS) stock although it comprises two stocks, an eastern stock and a western stock. The quota has decreased regularly over the last 10 years from 250kt to the current level of 90kt as a consequence of decreases in biomass.

The 2009 hoki stock assessment results published by the NZ Ministry of Fisheries show that the eastern stock is in the target zone of 35-50% B0 (B0=unexploited or virgin biomass). The western stock however declined to the overfished or depleted zone of 20%B0 for a number of years in the mid-2000s and has only just reached the bottom of the target zone in the last two years.

Based on this slight recovery a quota increase has been proposed for the next fishery year. The NZ Harvest Strategy Standard requires that the risk of a fishery causing the stock to fall below the “soft limit” (20%B0 for hoki) should be less than or equal to 10%. Given the uncertainties in the assessment this has clearly not been the case in the recent past for the western stock. So technically the western stock was being unsustainably fished for part of the period it has been certified as sustainable by MSC.

Depending on the magnitude of the quota increase it seems possible that the western hoki stock could once again fall below the target zone and be at a risk of >10% of being in the overfished or depleted zone again. Is it premature to consider the NZ hoki fishery “sustainable”? What are your views?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Growing Influence of Eco-certification

Here is a link to an interesting interview of the CEO of MSC, Robert Howes, by Bob Searle of The Bridgespan Group.  Although it is more than a year old, it gives a number of insights into the MSC psyche.

One concern may be Howes' view that "From the consumer’s perspective, they don’t need to know this amount of detail [the complexities of the MSC standard and how it is applied to determine whether or not a fishery is sustainable]. They need to see the eco label and know that that fishery has been through an incredibly rigorous, often lengthy certification and assessment process." This sounds a little paternalistic.  Don't worry your pretty little heads, just trust us, we have everything under control.  Surely it is the right of the public to question and challenge decisions that a third party is making regarding whether or not a fishery accessing a public resource really is sustainable?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Case #1 The Cape hakes

Certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council in April 2004.

The fishery comprises a shallow water species (Merluccius capensis) and deep water species (Merluccius paradoxus). South African hake is by far the most valuable fish resource in South Africa accounting for significant exports to countries such as Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Australia and the USA.

Certification back in 2004 was based in large part on an assessment in which the South and West coast components of both fisheries were treated separately, but the two species were lumped within each component, mainly because catch-and-effort statistics collected from the fishery are not species-disaggregated.

A new fully species-disaggregated coast-wide baseline assessment of the South African hake resource published in 2008 ( estimates that M. paradoxus is at <10% of its pre-exploitation level (i.e. technically collapsed) whereas M. capensis is estimated to be well above its maximum sustainable yield level.

Should a fishery on a collapsed stock still be listed as a certified sustainable fishery by MSC and allowed to carry an eco-label? Should the listing and eco-label be immediately revoked? Or should the fishery be given the opportunity to get back on track in the face of the new assessment?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Eco-certification of wild capture fisheries - public resource

Marine fish are considered to be a public resource and generally we would like to see them sustainably managed for long-term public good.

Eco-certification of sustainable fisheries would seem to be one way of achieving this. The idea is that if the public only purchases eco-certified fish products bearing a clear and valid eco-label, then there will be a dissinsentive for the fishing industry to engage in unsustainable fishing practices and for purveyors to deal in unsustainble fish products.

Clearly there are three parties involved in this process - us who want sustainable fisheries (hopefully), the industry that wants to make a profit (of course), and the eco-certifiers who want to make a difference.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the respective roles of the public, the fishing industry and the eco-certifiers in this process. The most prominent eco-certifier at present is the Marine Stewardship Council: They have been at it for 10 years and currently have 56 certified fisheries around the globe.

So, how well do we think they are doing? Are all these fisheries really sustainable? How good is the MSC standard? Is certification working? Feel free to contribute your views!