Friday, December 24, 2010

De-coding eco-labels, flaws and inadequacies - Food&WaterWatch

Food&WaterWatch describes a number of flaws and inadequacies with eco-certification and eco-lables in their recent publication De-coding Seafood Eco-Labels: Why we need Public standards.

Two issues that stand out are whether the public or private sector should oversee eco-certification and the certification of flawed fisheries.

Private sector eco-certification, for example the program run by the Marine Stewardship Council, limits the public right to fully determine the standards and conditions related to the labeling of their own property, the fish in the ocean.  If governments and RFMO's lived up to their responsibility to ensure only sustainable fisheries are permitted, there would be no need for expensive private sector certification schemes to second-guess the process.

Certification of flawed fisheries on condition that they undertake to improve and become sustainable in the future is very controversial.  As Food&WaterWatch point out - this deception regarding a sustainable fishery can be exploited by "free-riders" who get to ride on the reputation of the label.   Nobody should purchase a Toyota that is provisionally deemed safe provided the company figures out a way of fixing that brake problem over the next couple of years!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seafood eco-labelling criticised

An interesting article by Clare Leschin-Hoar on the website on 8 December draws attention to a recent publication by Food and Water Watch on De-Coding Seafood Eco-Labels: Why We Need Public Standards.

Clare notes that among the concerns expressed by Food and Water Watch are the certification of fisheries that have only pledged improvements over ones that meet all criteria, the high costs of certification which leads to a pay-to-play environment, and the predominant use of labels as marketing tools.  Concern is also expressed about groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council setting sustainability standards rather than governments.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

MSC Certification Fail! St Helena pole & line and rod & line tuna fisheries

The MSC accredited certifying body (CB) Food Certification International Ltd based in Inverness, Scotland, has given the St Helena Island pole & line and rod & line tuna fisheries for albacore, bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna a failing grade for MSC certification as a sustainable fishery.  The assessment was carried out using the qualitative Risk Based Assessment approach developed by MSC for data-poor stocks.  The CB failed the fisheries on all four tuna stocks under Principle 1: Sustainability of Exploited Stock.

Should the St Helena fishery wish to still pursue certification, it is required by the CB to ensure that a number of improvement are carried out in order to achieve a passing score under Principle 1.  These include the development and implementation of target and limit reference points as well as harvest strategies incorporating harvest control rules that respond to the state of the stock relative to the reference points.

Other fisheries have in the past been certified by MSC as sustainable while having conditions applied requiring improvements in these areas.  This is only the second fishery that has entered full MSC certification to not reach a successful conclusion (the other was apparently a UK lobster fishery some time ago).  Does this "fail" indicate a new approach by MSC in response to mounting public criticism that "conditionally sustainable" does not make sense (a fishery should meet all sustainability conditions before it is certified sustainable)?  Or is it just the result of a consulting company that lacks the business savvy of successful certifying bodies such as Moody Marine Ltd?

Friday, November 26, 2010

MSC’s ball – the eco-certification game

The recent Pew Environmental Group criticisms and email campaign directed at the controversial certification of the Southeast North Atlantic swordfish, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fisheries based in Florida drew a strong defence from Jim Humphreys, MSC Fisheries, Regional Director Americas, in a posting on the MSC website. 

Humphrey’s posting was picked up by Natalia Real in a editorial  20 August 2010 (“Pew's email campaign misleading: MSC”), prompting Lee Crockett, Director of Federal Fisheries Policy for the Pew Environment Group (PEG), to submit a response to in the form of an opinion piece.

Humphreys defends the independence of the certification process arguing that “The MSC does not conduct the fishery assessment and the MSC remains impartial throughout the process, which is crucial to preserving the trust and reliability that come from an independent, third-party assessment, and maintaining the global credibility of the MSC certification program.”

According to Crockett, MSC elaborated on its “independence” in correspondence with him, stating that “the assessment of the fishery is independent of the MSC - the MSC doesn't take part in the scoring and determination of a fishery assessment.”  The implication seems to be that the MSC is absolved of any blame when an assessment ends up drawing public criticism.  Simply put, “Don’t blame me hey, I didn’t do it!” Non est mea culpa! The finger should rather be pointed at the consulting company (accredited to the MSC Standard) that undertook the assessment.

Crocket quite rightly takes issue with this claim: “In fact, MSC developed the entire assessment process and the criteria used for the assessment. Moreover, after a fishery is certified, it is eligible to display the MSC label, not the logo of the company that conducted the assessment, in this case MRAG Americas. To use a sports analogy, the fishery applying for and paying for certification plays the entire game on the MSC’s field, using the MSC’s ball, the MSC’s rules, in order to receive the MSC’s prize. The MSC is clearly not a disinterested third party.”

Not only that, any public objection to the sustainability determination is also played on the MSC’s field with the MSC’s ball, with an MSC salaried “referee”, the Independent Adjudicator!  Objectors to controversial sustainability determinations have yet to win a game.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ross Sea Toothfish Fishery Certified Sustainable

A controversial fishery in the pristine Ross Sea has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) based on very little scientific evidence.  

The MSC's "Independent Adjudicator", Michael Lodge, has overturned public objections to the certification based on the assurances of a private consulting company, Moody Marine Ltd, contracted by by a group of fishing companies to prove that their portion of  the exploratory Ross Sea fishery is sustainable and worthy of the MSC eco-label.  Note that other nations involved in this fishery not covered by the certification have previously been identified as being involved in pirate fishing leading to the collapse of other toothfish stocks.  

Scientists claim that too little is known about the population dynamics of Ross Sea toothfish and the potential impact of catches to properly determine what would constitute a sustainable fishery.  Toothfish are highly vulnerable to overfishing as demonstrated by the collapse of a number of stocks.  

With this ruling MSC further lowers the bar (see other controversial certifications) on the evidence required to determine sustainability against it's standard.  It provides support to the perverse notion of "fish now and do the science later" - the antithesis of a sustainable approach.  

Consumers should exercise caution in accepting the MSC eco-label as evidence of a sustainably managed fishery and in particular avoid all toothfish or sea bass products.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

BC Spiny Dogfish – Sustainable Fishery or Species at Risk?

Will BC Spiny Dogfish be the first shark fishery to be deemed sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council? Or will it become another species on the growing COSEWIC Species At Risk list? 

MSC accredited certifying body, Moody Marine Ltd, is part way through a sustainability determination and COSEWIC is presently reviewing the extinction risks.

IUCN previously assessed the Spiny Dogfish as near threatened globally.  A proposal by Germany in 2004 to list Spiny Dogfish under CITES Appendix II tabled at a pre-CITES meeting was rejected by European member states.

The MSC assessment process started in 2008 under another private consulting company, TAVEL, which has subsequently been taken over by rival Moody.

Things moved very slowly on the MSC dogfish assessment and on 2 March 2010 Moody announced that it would be using the MSC “default assessment tree”.  In other words, the full-blow sustainability determination with multiple criteria under three Principles as given in “Marine Stewardship Council Fisheries Assessment Methodology and Guidance to Certification Bodies”.

However, once the Moody assessment team started to dig into the available data on this fishery, they found that it was very data-poor.  The last time the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had attempted to assess the status of the stock was back in 1987, so Moody had very little that was current to work with.  Moody and other MSC accredited consulting companies typically “borrow” extensively from the latest government or RFMO scientific assessment in order to arrive at their sustainability determination.

DFO dutifully commissioned a new stock assessment for BC spiny dogfish held May 17, 2010 in Nanaimo, BC.  The ensuing DFO report, “Science Advisory Report 2010/057 – Assessment  of Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthius) in British Columbia in 2010” has yet to see the light of day with regard to the general public.  However, one must assume that Moody got a sneak preview and didn’t like what it saw, because on 8 October 2010 they announced that they had changed their mind and rather than apply the default assessment tree, they are opting for the alternate back-door route to certification by applying the MSC “Risk Based Framework” (RBF).

The RBF was developed by MSC as an alternative assessment approach for data-deficient situations; particularly for Principles 1 and 2 (in other words, the important stuff like stock status, management strategy and ecosystem impacts).  Initially the motivation for such an approach was the idea that the default assessment tree favoured large scale fisheries in developed nations and that smaller fisheries in under-developed countries would be at an economic disadvantage because of a lack of the appropriate information and infrastructure, even though these fisheries might have a track record of being sustainable over a number of years.

This notion of giving a break to under-developed countries seems to have fallen by the way, and RBF is now being applied to fisheries for which there is no excuse for not having a state-of-the-art assessment of the sustainability of a fishery.  Case to point – a British Columbia fishery – one of the wealthiest provinces in one of the wealthiest countries with super-abundant resources to collect the information required to determine whether a fishery is sustainable.

RBF methods are much more subjective than the standard approach under the default assessment tree.  Methods range in complexity and data requirements from a system based on expert judgment (Scale Intensity Consequence Analysis- SICA), to a semi-quantitative analysis to assess potential risk (Productivity Susceptibility Analysis - PSA).  PSA examines attributes of each species that contribute to or reflect its productivity or susceptibility.   Pacific Spiny Dogfish has both a very low productivity and a high susceptibility to fishing gear.  They are long-lived, only maturing at about 35 years of age.  Females typically give birth once every two years and produce around 6 pups after a gestation period of 22-24 months – the longest of any known vertebrate. 

There has been a commercial fishery for Spiny Dogfish in Pacific waters since 1870 with landings peaking landing of over 30,000 tons in the 1940s.  Landings have been much lower, between 5,000 and 7,000 tons, in the Canadian Pacific fishery in recent years presumably because of lower abundance.  The fishery is pursued by both hook-and-line and trawl gear.  Although trawl catches have been relatively stable recently, landings and discards in the hook-and-line fleet have been steadily increasing over the last eight years.  Catch rate and survey trends are either flat or decreasing.  The size of the population relative to virgin levels is not known.  The fishery is managed by quota, currently set at about 15,000 tons.  It is not clear whether this is an adequate measure to ensure a sustainable population in the long-term or whether a more conservative approach is required.

It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the parallel MSC and COSEWIC processes with regard to sustainability vs. extinction risks.  Either way, we need more up-to-date information and a conservation-minded harvesting strategy if the fishery is to be truly sustainably managed such that there is a very low risk of future declines, collapses or even extinction.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Score jiggling under the MSC process to ensure fisheries sustainability certification?

Do third party MSC accredited Certifying Bodies jiggle scores to ensure a Pass on sustainability when responding to critical public comments, independent reviews and formal objections?

This issue has been raised recently by the Objection to the certification of the Faroese Pelagic Organisation North-East Atlantic Mackerel Fishery by Marine Scotland.  Marine Scotland is the lead marine management organisation in Scotland, bringing together the functions of the Fisheries Research Services (Marine Scotland Science), the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (Marine Scotland Compliance) and the Scottish Government Marine Directorate.

The Independent Adjudicator appointed by the Marine Stewardship Council to evaluate the objection, Melanie Carter, posted a notice on the MSC website dated 3 September 2010 outlining a query on the revision of the score on one of the fishery Performance Indicators by the Certifying Body Det Norske Veritas.

In responding to the objection by Marine Scotland, Det Norske Veritas had revised down the score for PI 3.1.1 to 65 resulting in the overall score for Principle 3 going down to 79.9.  This is a Fail under Principle 3 and therefore a Fail in terms of Sustainability determination under the MSC process.

When Melanie Carter pointed out this blunder to Det Norske Veritas they immediately responded “Our Assessment teams did not intend failing the fishery but we did overlook the effect of the rescoring on the weighting table (the total scores). DNV has been in contact with both experts [on the assessment team] yesterday and today. The assessment team wishes to rescore PI 3.1.1 to 70 giving it a total of 80,5.”  

This looks a lot like subjective score jiggling to ensure a Pass.

This brings to mind a previous case of alleged score jiggling under the MSC eco-certification process.  The controversial “skin-of-the-teeth” 2006/2007 sustainability assessment of the NZ Hoki fishery by SGS Netherlands resulted in a formal objection by NZ WWF in July 2006.  WWF claimed that there was “a procedural failure, because the Final Report does not provide enough evidence to show how the assessment team derived the scores for Performance Indicators that were changed between the Public Comment Draft Report and the Final Report.”

The allegation is that in responding to critical WWF comments on the Public Comment Draft report, SGS revised down some of the scores, but to compensate other PI scores, not subject to criticism by WWF, were revised up to ensure that an overall passing score was retained under each of the 3 Principles.

Recall that no fishery that has gone through the secret MSC pre-assessment process into full assessment has failed to achieve a Pass on Sustainability (except for a UK lobster fishery which fell out of the certification process at some point, possibly lack of funds to pay the CB?). Further recall that no public comment, independent peer review or formal objection has resulted in the overturning of a Certification Body Sustainability Determination.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seafood stewardship in crisis?

In an opinion article published in Nature 2 September, Jennifer Jacquet of the UBC Fisheries Centre and colleagues criticise a number of facets of fisheries sustainability certification carried out by the Marine Stewardship Council.  They suggest "scores of scientists… and many conservation groups" have protested over various MSC procedures or certifications and that MSC increasingly risks its credibility and the planet risks losing wild capture fisheries and healthy marine ecosystems.

MSC fired back an immediate response arguing that its sustainability standard fully met FAO guidelines and had the support of “over 200 marine biologists, scientists, environmentalists and other stakeholders from around the world.”

To add more numbers to the fray, last year ASOC (Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition) numbering more than 200 non-governmental organizations in fifty countries concerned with the preservation of the Antarctic environment filed a notice of objection with MSC regarding the sustainability determination of Moody Marine with regard to the Aker Biomarine Krill Fishery. 

So, lots of people engaged on both sides of the argument it seems.  There is little doubt that at least some of MSC’s fisheries sustainability certifications are highly controversial and the MSC Board would do well to consider the reasons with a little dose of humility rather than denial.

There are three areas of potential concern – the MSC standard, its application and governance.  The principles and criteria that make up the MSC standard are consistent with most interpretations of what would constitute a sustainable fishery, at least in terms of single species management.  At the ecosystem level MSC criteria are more nebulous, but this reflects the general lack of our current understanding about what ecosystem sustainability means and how to achieve it.

The problem seems to lie with what Jacquet et al. call the “loose interpretation of its rules”.  As one of MSCs own Independent Adjudicators recently put it, the MSC process “leaves a substantial margin of discretion to the certification body in the way in which it sets scoring guideposts against individual performance indicators”.

MSC independent certifiers are seen by some to be certifying fisheries that are not sustainable as conditionally sustainable in anticipation that they will become fully sustainable in order to retain certification.  It is hard to believe many fisheries scientists or others seriously interested in long-term sustainable management of our fisheries think that this is justified.  There may be more sympathy if at least one fishery had actually lost certification for not meeting the conditions imposed by MSC, but this has never happened.  Jacquet et al. suggest that MSC is in danger of diminishing the value of its brand as leading retailers respond to heightened public concerns by requiring higher standards than those applied by MSC’s independent certifiers such as Moody Marine Ltd.  As Jacquet et al. point out there is economic incentive for leniency – “certifiers that leniently interpret existing criteria might expect to receive more work and profit from ongoing annual audits.”

Jacquet and colleagues touch on issues related to the MSC objection procedure.  It is this aspect of MSC governance that is perhaps the most troublesome.  It is run by lawyers retained on salary by MSC and it is a process to ensure that MSC’s own rules have been followed in reaching a determination, rather than to evaluate whether scientific data related to sustainability are adequate and have been properly interpreted.  As such it cannot second-guess the independent certifiers’ assessment of the sustainability of the stock.  This leaves little opportunity for a member of the public, or public groups to derail an assessment on technical grounds related to data and interpretation.  The proof is in the pudding.  No MSC assessment has ever failed to reach a successful sustainability determination and no objection has ever been upheld.    

Needless to say the MSC Board rejects the criticisms of Jacquet and colleagues, claiming that its practices and procedures are beyond reproach.  When some of the MSC’s founding fatherly advisors and early supporters such as Daniel Pauly and Sidney Holt suggest that there are serious problems, the MSC Board would do well to listen, rather than shoot from the hip.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seabird feathers fly as MSC and Pew face off over swordfish and tuna

In an open letter on the MSC website, Jim Humphreys, MSC Fisheries Regional Director for the Americas, responds to the Pew Environment Group’s recent campaign to oppose the assessment of the Southeast North Atlantic swordfish, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fisheries based in Florida as sustainable.  These fisheries are currently under MSC sustainability assessment by the independent accredited certifier, MRAG Americas.

Humphries argues that previous successful MSC assessments have resulted in significant improvements in some fisheries that have dramatically reduced impacts on other species.

The idea is that MSC certifies fisheries that are not really sustainable, or that have considerable negative impacts on the ecosystem, on condition that they promise to become sustainable and reduce ecosystem impacts over the next 5 years by fixing a bunch of issues.  MSC claims that this has led to improved fisheries management. 

Humphreys picks a strange example to support his claim – the South Africa hake fishery.  The offshore hake stock, Merluccius paradoxus, the major component of the fishery, is in a collapsed state but this did not stop MSC from recently recertifying the fishery as sustainable for a second 5 year period, against the protests of one of the independent reviewers who pointed out as much.

But it is not the management of the collapsed hake stock Humphreys is referring to.  It is the reduction in seabird mortality caused by collateral damage in the hake trawl fishery through contact with the trawl and trawl warps – supposedly down from 18,000 per year a few years back to 200 per year now as a result of MSC imposed conditions on the fishery..

The 18,000 per year estimate is published in a 2008 paper in Animal Conservation (Interactions between seabirds and deep-water hake trawl gear: an assessment of impacts in South African waters by Watkins, Petersen and Ryan).

The question is, what is the basis for Humphreys’ estimate of current mortality of only 200 per year?  The number seems unlikely.

There is another story within this story. 

The president of MRAG Americas, a private, for-profit consulting company, is Andy Rosenberg, former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Rosenberg also happens to be a Pew fellow and, according to the Gloucester Daily Times, appointed last fall by Lubchenco as a White House consultant on ocean policy.


More feathers may fly!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MSC slashes objection fee

MSC announced August 2 that it is slashing the fee cap on lodging an objection to a fishery sustainability determination from £15,000 to £5,000.  This sounds like a lucky break for the public who might want to voice concerns regarding some aspect of the sustainability assessment process carried out under MSC.

That is until you stop to think.  A few years ago I paid a fee to my local city council to object to a new property evaluation they carried out on my house.  The objection was heard by an independent adjudicator hired by the city and I had a few dollars shaved off my annual property taxes as a result.  

Like I own my house, the public owns this property, the fish resource.  But, unlike my city council, the MSC has no legal standing.  Why should we pay a group that has not legal standing for the right to object to a wrongful finding related to our property that could well impact its future value in terms of long-term public good?

It makes no sense until you realize that the public are not the client of the MSC process - the industry is.  An objection delays certification of the fishery as sustainable, increases costs for the independent certifier (e.g. Moody Marine Ltd., a for-profit company accredited under MSC standards) and annoys the client.  The fee reduces the number of objections lodged by public organizations and lessons the salary costs of the 4 lawyers hired by MSC as Independent Adjudicators to hear and judge objections.

Perhaps the reduced fee will encourage more public objections to controversial MSC sustainability certifications.  But £5,000  is still pretty steep when you consider what you get.  No objection to a sustainability determination has been upheld by an MSC Adjudicator thus far.

You got nothing for £15,000  now you will get nothing for £5,000 - not really a bargain.

MSC income, was £8 million in 2008/2009 -about half from charitable grants and half from licensing its blue eco-label to components of the supply chain for products from certified fisheries.  The right thing to do would be to eliminate the objection fee altogether.  MSC can afford it, although it may mean putting on hold the opening of a new administrative office in some further corner of the World.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Aker Biomarine krill based profits up

Recently MSC certified as sustainable, the Aker Biomarine profits are up based on products from its krill fishery in the Antarctic according to a report on today

By SeafoodSource staff 
06 August, 2010 - Oslo, Norway-based krill harvester and biotechnology group Aker Biomarine posted a quarterly profit for the first time thanks to a strong harvest and strong sales of its omega-3 fatty acid-rich products for human consumption.

What price does one put on preserving the Antarctic foodchain? 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ross sea toothfish objection - a flustered partial response?

The Marine Stewardship Council Independent Adjudicator (IA) responded in part on 2 August to the latest submissions from Moody Marine Ltd and Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).  The numerous typos are a clue, but there is other evidence that the IA may be becoming flustered.  Perhaps he senses that Ross Sea toothfish is a public symbol of ignorance regarding sustainable fisheries and inherent flaws in the MSC approach?  As a lawyer he must be aware that precedence is being set with each decision he makes.

Given almost no concessions by Moody to his previous remand, the IA now proceeds, step by step, to further dissect, and in some cases revoke, concerns, especially with regard to Principle 2 (Maintenance of Ecosystem), “that that there was a serious procedural irregularity that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment”.

In doing so, he laments that MSC Fisheries Certification Methodology “leaves a substantial margin of discretion to the certification body in the way in which it sets scoring guideposts against individual performance indicators.  Almost by definition, the circumstances on which an adjudicator could interfere with the exercise of that discretion must be extremely limited.”

This sentiment was echoed recently by another IA on the objection to the controversial Moody Marine Ltd Fraser River sockeye salmon determination when he remarked “Other IA’s, in recent decisions, recognizing the purpose of the OP [Objection Procedure], have described the standard of review available [by the IA to an objection] as being “narrow” and requiring “deference to the determinations of the certification body”.”

In keeping with the narrow scope and need for deference, the IA finds that, although a number of the scores against the Performance Indicator Scoring Guideposts (PISGs) for Ross Sea toothfish appear “generous”, and although Moody has thus far argued against making any revisions based on objections, “I am not persuaded that the certification body made a mistake as to material fact, failed to consider material information or acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in awarding the scores that were given”.

Although the IA again remands several of the Principle 3 (Effective Management System) PSIGs and associated scores for further consideration by Moody, none of these would appear to be “show-stoppers” as far as certification is concerned.  Once the IA has Moody’s response in hand with respect to Principle 3, he says he will then consider the responses to his earlier remand against Principle 1 indicators (Sustainability of Exploited Stock). These do contain some real “show-stoppers”, particularly with regard to the very speculative knowledge regarding the life-history of Ross Sea toothfish.  Will Moody be let off the hook on these accounts too?  Wait and see.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Objection to MSC certification of Ross Sea toothfish to be upheld?

The certification of the Ross Sea longline fishery for Antarctic toothfish hangs in the balance. Independent Adjudicator Michael Lodge will decide in the next few days whether to uphold the ASOC objection to Moody Marine Ltd’s determination, or issue a further remand to Moody to properly address the issues that have been raised.

So far Moody has refused to blink.

In its 2nd June response to Lodge’s initial remand, Moody fought back admitting no changes to its scoring guideposts or scores – 89% for Sustainability of Exploited Stock, 89% for Maintenance of Ecosystem and 93% for Effective Management System. An A+ for sustainability.

Remember though, this is an “exploratory” fishery on a long-lived, slow-growing, low fecundity top predator in a largely pristine ecosystem. As with most exploratory fisheries, we only have rudimentary knowledge of the biology, life history, stock structure and migration of toothfish in the Ross Sea, and management measures must be considered preliminary at best.

Although the CCAMLR stock assessment is the best available, it admits to considerable uncertainty in many aspects. This was pointed out in a critical review of Moody’s draft report by Dr Michael Pawson, an expert in stock assessment who formerly worked at the famous Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory, but Moody was characteristically dismissive.

In it’s 21 June comments on Moody’s response ASOC does not hold back: “As explained clearly in his decision, the IA[Independent Adjudicator] has had very serious concerns about the process MML [Moody] undertook with regard to this certification and with the conclusions it reached. Nonetheless, MML’s response is, at very best, superficial. It has largely re-stated its existing rationales and has not provided any new, substantive justification or thinking – let alone changing a single score. The response suggests that MML does not take the adjudication process seriously.”

Will Michael Lodge agree or will he give Moody one more chance?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MSC sockeye salmon certification - who profits?

The David Suzuki Foundation has just produced a useful backgrounder on the controversial Marine Stewardship Council certification of BC sockeye salmon.
The backgrounder states that The Marine Stewardship Council eco-label allows certified fisheries to brand themselves as a “sustainable” source of seafood. Fisheries voluntarily apply for certification, and they do so by hiring a for-profit company to carry out the assessment.

While I don't profess to understand the whole MSC process, some additional information might be useful for those not familiar with the relationship between MSC as a non-profit organization and the profit-maximising companies that do the actual assessments.

MSC provides a Fishery Standard containing Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing as well as a manual of Fisheries Assessment Methodology and Guidance to Certification Bodies Including Default Assessment Tree and Risk-Based Framework.  Only companies that are accredited by Accreditation Services International GmbH (ASI) to the MSC accreditation requirements can do fishery sustainability certification assessments under the MSC process.  These companies apply the MSC Standard and use the MSC Methods and Guidance manual to do the actual assessments and determine certifiable fisheries.

The MSC website gives the following list of accredited certifiers:
  • Det Norske Veritas Certification AS
  • Food Certification International Ltd (FCI)
  • Global Trust Certifications Ltd (Previously I:FQC Ltd)
  • MacAlister Elliott & Partners Ltd
  • Moody Marine Ltd
  • MRAG Americas
  • OrganizaciĆ³n Internacional Agropecuaria (OIA)
  • Scientific Certification Systems
  • Tavel Certification Inc.
This is not completely up-to-date because Moody Marine Ltd (which has carried out a number of MSC assessments) recently acquired one of the competition, Tavel Certification Inc.

What is important here is that the accredited certifiers are all  companies seeking to maximise profits through the MSC sustainability and eco-labelling system.  To be competitive they can vary the fee they charge fishing enterprises seeking certification and then seek ways to cut the costs of doing the actual certification. One of the costs to the certifier involves hiring outside experts to assist with the assessments because of limited in-house expertise, and to do independent reviews of draft assessments.  These experts include government fisheries scientists and academics who may already be involved in advising governments and RFMOs on the sustainable management of  various fisheries.

As a non-profit, MSC is funded by donation and by the fee it charges components of the supply chain for displaying its blue eco-label. Note that some enterprises that achieve certification choose not to actually use the MSC eco-label in order to avoid paying the fee.  MSC also runs a second process for "Chain of Custody certifications" in which an overlapping list of companies are accredited to certify businesses that meet the MSC Chain of Custody standard for seafood traceability. A further source of income to MSC is the objection process.  Bodies filing an objection (usually conservation organizations funded by private donations) are charged a significant fee by MSC which presumably partly offsets the salaries they pay to four lawyers who are retained as "independent adjudicators" to judge the validity of objections.




Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All objections to Fraser Sockeye Salmon MSC certification dismissed

In his ruling handed down July 12 2010, Independent Adjudicator Wylie Spicer, Q.C., dismissed all objections to the MSC certification of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon as sustainable. Certification will now proceed and the BC Salmon Marketing Council can apply the blue MSC sustainability label to all products from the Fraser River sockeye fishery. The objections were filed jointly by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, David Suzuki Foundation and the Skeena Wild Conservation Trust.

This is Spicer’s first adjudication in his new job on salary to MSC. In his findings, he sets the tone early on by stating that “Other IA’s, in recent decisions, recognizing the purpose of the OP [Objection Procedure], have described the standard of review available as being “narrow” and requiring “deference to the determinations of the certification body” (Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish Longline Fishery decision at para. 8).”

Further into his report Spicer notes that the Objector’s arguments “are really taking issue with whether the Fraser River Fishery can stand up to scrutiny given the MSC Principles and Criteria.” He notes that “this type of review is not the purpose of the OP. The purpose of the OP is to review the work of the CB [Certification Body] to see whether it made an error that materially affected the outcome of the Determination.”

Within this narrow ambit of the OP, Spicer finds that no such errors were made. Procedures were followed and the scores are justified.

For those of us that value our children’s future more than MSC procedures and the short-term economic benefits accrued by the BC Salmon Marketing Council, there are some major concerns with this certification.

Firstly, the productivity of Fraser River salmon is in free-fall as pointed out by the “Think Tank of Scientists” that met in December 2009 at Simon Fraser University: “The productivity of the Fraser river sockeye salmon, which is the number of adults produced per spawner, has been declining since the mid-1990s to the point where Fraser River sockeye are almost unable to replace themselves.” No matter what scoring guideposts were set up and what scores were allocated by the Moody Marine assessment team, a population that is “almost unable to replace itself” cannot be considered a candidate for a sustainable fishery.

Secondly, two distinct genetic components of Fraser sockeye, those spawning in Cultus Lake and Sakinaw Lake, have been found to be endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The Canadian government however decided not to list them under the Species at Risk Act, citing socio-economic considerations.  Listing would have mandated an explicit rebuilding strategy. The continuing loss of biodiversity should be a major concern for those that care about our planet’s future.

So, MSC adds another controversial certification to their growing list, the perfect record of all objections to any assessment being dismissed is retained, and public confidence in the process, and hence the value of the MSC label, is diminished.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Controversy over MSC krill certification - science flatters fishery?

A well-researched article on the MSC krill certification by David Jolly published June 23 in The New York Times quotes Sidney Holt as saying the problem with the MSC process was that the outsourcing of fishery assessments to commercial contractors paid by the fisheries created a conflict of interest, because the contractors have an incentive to present the science in a way most flattering to a fishery. “It’s like having the prosecutor in court appoint the judge” he is quoted as saying.

Although long retired and now considered by some to have extreme views on conservation, Sidney Holt, along with fellow British colleague Ray Beverton and Canadian scientist Bill Ricker, laid the foundation for quantitative science for sustainable fisheries management through their research in the 1950s and 1960s.

Holt hits the nail on the head. In fact his prosecutor-judge analogy can be taken one step higher in the chain. MSC appoints and pays the salaries of the lawyers who act as the independent adjudicators of formal objections to its sustainability determinations. No objection has thus far been judged by the independent adjudicators to be of sufficient merit to result in overturning an MSC sustainability determination. Given that pre-assessments are confidential, MSC is batting 1000.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

MSC eco-certified fish are not necessarily from sustainable ecosystems

An interesting posting Fishy branding - the ecosystem behind the label by Sally Campbell on the Community of Arran Seabed Trust looks behind MSC-accreditation and explores some of the emerging problems with our new hunger for ‘sustainable’ labelling.

Campbell writes "It underlines a real concern that many of the MSC eco-certified fish are not necessarily from sustainable ecosystems. Certifiers are accredited by Accreditation Services International GmbH (ASI) to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Accreditation requirements. Companies such as Moody Marine Ltd and MRAG Americas, Inc can certify that fisheries meet the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing and these organisations duly undertake a programmed check on those fisheries wishing to have the Blue Label from MSC. It was following such a review by a these external organisations that the Cape Hake was re-certified, and the collapsed state of the fishery was even pointed out by the independent reviewer of the certification."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Canadian bluefin tuna fishery to apply for MSC certification?

The Canadian fishery for bluefin tuna takes place on the Scotian Shelf, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Bay of Fundy, and off Newfoundland during the tuna feeding migration which brings large fish into Canadian waters between July and November.

The directed fishery uses rod-and-reel or tended line with a restriction of a maximum of four lines per vessel and one hook per line. A portion of the Canadian harvest is taken as by-catches in the swordfish longline fishery and other tuna fisheries.

Canada’s 2009 allocation by ICCAT comprised 470 t for the inshore fleets, 67 t for the swordfish longline fleet (as bycatch), 20 t for offshore bycatch in the fishery for other tuna species and 2 t for scientific tagging.

ICCAT assesses the western and eastern stocks of northern bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus separately although mixing between stocks is known to occur and some proportion of the western stock is caught by the larger and wide-ranging fishery on the eastern stock.

Both the eastern and the western stocks of northern bluefin tuna are severely depleted and being overfished. In the most recent scientific assessment of the western stock by ICCAT (2008) two scenarios regarding recruitment potential were considered. Under low recruitment potential, spawning biomass was estimated at 57% of Bmsy and fishing mortality at 1.27 x Fmsy. Under high recruitment potential, spawning biomass was estimated at 14% of Bmsy and fishing mortality at 2.18 x Fmsy. Both scenarios are considered equally likely by ICCAT.

ICCAT found that under low recruitment potential, a total catch of 2,100 t is predicted to have at least a 50% chance of achieving the Convention objectives of preventing overfishing and rebuilding the stock to MSY levels by 2019, the target rebuilding time. Under high recruitment potential, the rebuilding target is higher and a total catch of less than 1,500 t is predicted to stop overfishing in 2009, but the stock would not be expected to rebuild by 2019 even with no fishing.

The TAC was set at 2,100 t in 2007 and 2008, lowered to 1,900 t in 2009 and 1,800 t in 2010. The TAC is intended to stop overfishing by 2010 and to rebuild the stock to Bmsy by 2019. The ICCAT 20 year rebuilding plan began in 1999 but half way through there has been no rebuilding. Although fishing mortality is estimated to have been decreasing recently, the stock is still being overfished (F>Fmsy). The next ICCAT scientific assessment of the stock is in September 2010.

In a press release Friday (2 June) the Canadian fisheries minister, Gail Shea stated “Our Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery is the best managed fishery of its kind in the world today, and we are starting to see the positive results of those efforts”. This statement was made following an informal meeting in Barcelona with Japan, Korea and other nations that, like Canada, voted against CITES listing of bluefin tuna earlier this year. The Minister’s department website has a link to a video it made called “Canada’s Bluefin Tuna Fishery: A Model for Sustainable Management”.

While maybe not a candidate for MSC certification (yet, as far as we know – remember MSC pre-assessment is secret) it would be interesting to speculate how the Canadian bluefin tuna fishery would score under the MSC three principles. It applies targeted fishing gear with minimal bycatch or damage to the environment, it is well monitored, abides by regulations, and is managed by an RFMO based on peer-reviewed scientific advice under clearly stated management objectives that address sustainability. This suggests that a passing grade would be obtained it went to assessment. After all, it is “A Model for Sustainable Management”!

But the question is: Can a fishery on a stock that is severely depleted and being overfished be considered “sustainable”?

By-the-way, COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) is currently reviewing western bluefin tuna as a potential candidate for listing as a species at risk of extinction under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) based on a decline in the population of more than 80% from historic levels. Given that the Gulf of Mexico is the spawning area for the entire western bluefin population and given BP’s recent little mishap, COSEWIC’s review may be very timely.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Verdict out - Antarctic krill fishery is sustainable because MSC says so

Yesterday (25 May 2010) MSC released the legally sounding "Supplemental Decision of the Independent Adjudicator on Remand in the Matter of an Objection to the Final Report and Determination of the Proposed Certification of the Aker Biomarine Antarctic Krill Fishery under the MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing".

The "Decision" is by the Independent Adjudicator (on staff to MSC) - lawyer Eldon V.C. Greenberg.

In his 4 page ruling he reaches the conclusion "In sum, after consideration of Moody's Response to Additional Remand, I conclude that the response is "adequate to meet the matters raised in the remand" within the meaning of Section 4.9.4(a) of the Objections Procedure, and I confirm the determination of the certification body with respect to PIs 1.2.2 and 2.5.3. I conclude that Moody has cured the procedural defect identified in my remand of May 5, 2010 and provided a reasonable explanation for its decision not to alter the scoring of the PIs in question in light of Watters 2009."

See post on this blog on May 7 for background

So Moody wins another one and MSC can check an additional sustainable fishery to its growing world-wide list.

But what do conservation bodies think?  The influential Pew Environmental Group does not like it one little bit.  The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a US-based non-governmental organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improving public policy, informing the public and stimulating civic life.

PR Newswire reports that "The Pew Environment Group today criticized the decision by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify Antarctic krill. The certification gives the false impression that the entire fishery for Antarctic krill is sustainable when in reality it is not."

Gerald Leape, director of Pew's Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP) points out the main grounds for objecting to the certification of the Aker krill fishery as sustainable:
  • MSC's standards allow for the certification of a single operator in a fishery. In general, this runs contrary to its mission of ocean protection. If a few ships are acting responsibly but the vast majority are not, the target population could still be at risk of being overfished.  
  • Climate change impacts to species are not considered by MSC methodology. As krill have been proven to be susceptible to climate change, the impact of warming temperatures on the population must be considered, if fishing is to be sustainable.
  • Numerous uncertainties are associated with the determinants and drivers of krill population size. Though extensively studied, scientists are still learning what affects krill population size. Without this knowledge, it is difficult to set appropriate catch limits.

PR Newswire reports Leape saying: "Unfortunately, perception is reality...The MSC's label falsely advertises the message that all krill are sustainably caught and that consuming krill-based omega 3 supplements or purchasing farmed salmon raised on krill meal is okay. Nothing could be further from the truth."


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish fishery MSC certification in question

FIS is reporting today that MSC Independent Adjudicator Michael Lodge has questioned the scores Moody Marine has assigned to six performance indicators for the Ross Sea Antactic toothfish fishery following an objection made by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).  Lodge however dismissed eight of the ASOC objections and also rejected an objection against the definition of the “Unit of Certification”. 

See previous blog entry on this fishery:

FIS reports that ASOC is calling Lodge’s remand a “victory for science and the Antarctic marine environment.” The Coalition argued that the dearth of data on the stock and lack of scientific rigour in the assessment did not support certification of the fishery as sustainable.  Also supporting the objection were the Centre for Biological Diversity and 39 marine scientists under the collective name of Friends of the Ross Sea Ecosystem (FORSE).

FIS reports ASOC Executive Director James Barnes as stating “This fishery should never have been allowed to undergo full assessment in the first place - there are simply far too many unknowns about this highly vulnerable stock, which is precisely why the fishery is officially classified as 'exploratory' by CCAMLR....The adjudicator has agreed with ASOC that Moody cannot justify its scores for a number of crucial indicators.”

Moody Marine has 10 days to issue a “reasoned response” regarding the remand but can apply to Lodge for an extension.  The objections process will be finalised once Lodge considers the response and makes his decision on whether the fishery should be certified or not.  No fishery has thus far been denied MSC certification based on an objection.

Link to FIS article

Friday, May 7, 2010

Objection to Antarctic Krill fishery certification as sustainble by MSC

On December 4 2009 the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC, a coalition of over 200 non-governmental organizations in fifty countries concerned with the preservation of the Antarctic environment) filed a notice of objection with MSC regarding the sustainability determination of Moody Marine with regard to the Aker Biomarine Krill Fishery.

The Aker Biomarine pelagic trawl krill fishing fleet is a major participant in the Antarctic krill fishery in Area 48 in the Southern Ocean waters around the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. ASOC and its partner the Pew Antarctic Krill Conservation Project have been advocating for management reforms in the fishery and have concerns about the Aker Biomarine krill fleet’s role in that fishery.

The MSC report by Moody Marine, together with comments from two independent reviewers and Moody’s responses, were published on their website on 6 August 2009.

One of the reviewers, Stephen Nicol, is an acknowledged world expert on krill in the Antarctic. He made a number of critical comments on the report which Moody Marine mostly dismissed. For example, he stated that “There is little doubt that the data being collected are insufficient to detect impacts of fishing – and there is no mechanism to alter the krill management approach even if impacts were detected.” Moody Marine responded that “The reviewer is correct, but his concerns do not render the harvest strategy ineffective, in our opinion.”

In another instance Nicol comments that he is “unaware of any evidence that exists that the [existing management] strategy is effective other than the absence of an obvious stock collapse. Nicol argues for a lowering of the scores in a number of instances, for example “Because of the lack of a mandatory observer scheme, the shortfalls of the CEMP [CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program] and the uncertainties over bycatch it is difficult to see how information/monitoring can be considered adequate.” Again, Moody Marine is dismissive.

Nicol concludes that “Overall, the assessment probably falls somewhat short of what I might hope given the MSC principles. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the operator has a very short history in the krill fishery and has not yet had a chance to establish its credentials or to fully examine the impacts of its new technology [mid-water trawl continuous fishing system]. This suggests to me that this proposal is slightly premature. Secondly, the proposal assumes that the procedures implemented by CCAMLR in pursuit of its ecosystem approach to management are sufficiently robust to enable the krill fishery to meet the MSC criteria.” Moody Marine considers that although “The harvest strategy has not been fully tested, … monitoring is in place and evidence exists that it is achieving its objectives.”

The outcome of the review resulted in Moody adjusting its scoring as follows:

1.2.1: Score reduced to 90
1.2.2: No change
2.5.1: Score increased to 100
2.5.2: Score reduced to 75
2.5.3: No change

The change in score for PI 2.5.2 has resulted in a new Condition – Condition 3 at the end of this document.

The basis for a 100% score under 2.5.1 is that “There is evidence that the fishery is highly unlikely to disrupt the key elements underlying ecosystem structure and function to a point where there would be a serious or irreversible harm.” Presumably this increase is necessary to counteract the decrease in the score under 2.5.2.

Overall scores for the fishery are now:
Principle 1: 84
Principle 2: 91
Principle 3: 93

This would therefore maintain the determination that this fishery be certified.

The objection by ASOC noted that the company seeking certification was only one of the operators in fishing krill in the Antarctic and felt that for the MSC label to have any credibility it must reflect the impact of the fishery as a whole.

ASOC also criticized Moody Marine for not paying any attention to a report by Watters et al. (2009) which they suggest demonstrates that “recent risk assessments conducted for the krill fishery clearly show that measures currently in place are not sufficient to prevent irreversible harm to several krill predator populations” [WG-EMM-09/12, George M. Watters, Simeon Hill, Jefferson T. Hinke, and Phil Trathan. The Risks of not Deciding to Allocate the Precautionary Krill Catch Limit among SSMUs and Allowing Uncontrolled Expansion of the Krill Fishery up to the Trigger Level.]

Moody Marine argued that the study conducted by Watters et al. (2009) was produced after their final report was completed, but ASOC claimed that this was incorrect because these findings were highlighted in comments by Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP) on Moody Marine’s draft report. ASOC claimed that Moody Marine “simply chose not to respond to it, but they had ample opportunity to become familiar with this important document, which is being provided to the Independent Adjudicator and should be a part of the formal record.”

The Independent Adjudicator is lawyer Eldon Greenberg, one of three new lawyers recently appointed under salary to MSC to hear and judge objections. He is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Garvey Schubert Barer. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Mr Greenberg was deputy general counsel of the Agency for International Development and general counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the Carter Administration. He specializes in environmental and natural resources issues, including fishery management, marine mammal and endangered species. He also teaches international negotiation as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Under the MSC “Objections Procedure” a remand can only be ordered where the Independent Adjudicator determines that one or more of the following circumstances apply: (a) There was a serious procedural or other irregularity in the fishery assessment process that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment; or (b) The score given by the certification body in relation to one or more performance indicators cannot be justified, and this was material to the outcome of the determination; or (c) It is necessary to remand the Determination in order to enable the certification body to consider additional information.

Although the “Objection Procedure”sounds very legal and official, it is difficult to see that it has any real legal standing. There is no contract in existence between MSC and the the resource owners, the civil public, to make any of this legal and binding – it is just a bunch of rules much like in a game of Monopoly.

The ASOC objection is based on three claims (i) Moody has misapplied the MSC principles in relation to the “unit of certification”, contending that the unit of certification must be the entire Antarctic krill fishery; (ii) Moody has incorrectly applied the MSCs procedures in reaching its conclusions; and (iii) The scores given by Moody in relation to a number of the Performance Indicators cannot be justified.
Eldon Greenberg found, in his judgment, that “Moody explicitly addressed the comments of both peer reviewers, including the one who was most critical of the analysis [Steve Nicol], and had made a rational judgment call about what changes should be incorporated in its report.” Greenberg concluded that this satisfies MSC requirements.

While dismissing other claims by ASOC, Greenberg did concede that Moody should have considered the Watters 2009 report because it was available “substantially in advance of completion of the certification body’s final report”. He stated that information brought to light in a timely fashion by commentators on a draft report cannot be ignored and to do so would “diminish the utility and value of the public comment process”.
Greenberg cites the precedent of the Pacific Hake Mid-Water Trawl Fishery decision where the Independent Adjudicator considered whether new material that arose after the draft report had been prepared would have made a “material difference to the fairness of the assessment”.

Without calling any expert scientific experts, Greenberg passes judgment on the contents of the Watters 2009 report and finds that the report “did not conclude that the fishery was not managed in a precautionary manner, but rather that the management system was not “as precautionary” as previously posited in the event of an “uncontrolled expansion” of the fishery.”

Greenberg finally decides on a “limited remand to the certification body to consider Watters 2009 in the context of the specific PIs where ASOC asserts that this study supports its objections to Moody’s scoring”.

Greenberg acknowledges that ASOC levels a “series of weighty arguments against a finding of sustainability” by Moody based on the role of krill in the Antarctic Ecosystem, lack of an adequate management strategy and the large amount of uncertainty and gaps in knowledge. He states that “I cannot (and will not) substitute my judgment for that of the certification body as long as its finding and determinations have a rational basis in the record and the rationale stated is consistent with the facts found here”.

After considering each issue raised by ASOC under each of the PIs through reams of text, Greenberg repeatedly finds that “I am not persuaded that Moody made a mistake of material fact, failed to consider material information, or acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in awarding the score” on each PI element contested by ASOC.

Finally Greenberg concludes that “Having considered the written submissions and supporting documentation of the parties, I find that, with one exception, ASOC’s grounds for objection…have not been established under the Objections Procedure. However, he did find “a serious procedural error” with regard to Moody not taking into account the Watters 2009 report in the scoring of a number of criteria under PIs 1 and 2. Moody now has the opportunity to reflect on the judgment and make changes, if any, in a response to Greenberg after which he will decide whether the objection is upheld or dismissed.

Note that there was no oral hearing in this case. Written submissions were instead considered and no scientific experts were called. This may reduce the considerable cost for leveling an objection imposed by MSC, to be borne by ASOC.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

MSC assessment of BC sockeye salmon enters the adjudication process

One of the objections to the MSC assessment of the sustainability of the BC sockeye salmon fishery has been withdrawn but the second has been allowed to proceed to adjudication.  This is a process under the control of lawyers hired by MSC, although scientific experts may be called by the adjudicator.  See for more information.

The letter from the lawyer to the objector, the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, can be read here:

The oral hearing will be sometime in late May or early June but it is unclear whether this is a public hearing or in camera.  What is clear is that the lawyer alone decides whether the objection is sustained or dismissed.  Note that objections are usually based on scientific aspects of the determination of sustainabililty.  No objection has been sustained thus far under the MSC process.  Therefore the outcome from this hearing will have wide public interest and should be covered by a simultaneous public webcast, so that we, the resource owners, can see and hear that justice has been done with regard to safeguarding our property.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eco-certification of BC sockeye fisheries

British Columbia fisheries conservation organizations oppose Marine Stewardship Council certification of BC sockeye fisheries.

A number of organizations are objecting strongly to the announcement today of eco-certification of BC’s sockeye fisheries.

See list of spokespeople here:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MSC awards re-certification to South African hake

Despite the strong objections of one of the independent reviewers, MSC has just announced that it has decided to re-certify the South African hake fishery:

The offshore hake species and main contributor to this two-species fishery is in a collapsed state and did not improve during the previous certification period.  This was clearly pointed out by the independent reviewer of the assessment but apparently ignored by MSC (see earlier post).  

The MSC website quotes a spokesman for the client group: “Initially we sought certification partly to celebrate the steady, painstaking recovery of domestic hake resources and partly because we wished to pursue a high sustainability standard for the fishery. We have seen, in the last five years, that MSC certification has other benefits: there is commercial advantage by way of access to other markets and buyers that place a premium on a certified product. Personally, the most gratifying benefit is the way in which certification motivates participants. Certification raises awareness of all fishing stakeholders about the need to adopt best practices with a view to the long term future of the hake resource.”

Painstaking recovery?
High sustainability standard for the fishery?
Do the economic benefits of certification outweigh the facts in this case?

You decide.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

MSC extends certification of the South African hake trawl fishery while waiting for delayed reassessment

MSC reports on its website that there have been “unavoidable delays” in the reassessment of the South African hake trawl fishery by Moody Marine. This fishery was first certified as sustainable by MSC in 2004.
MSC has extended certification to the end of March 2010 to allow the ecolabel to continue to hold while the reassessment is completed.

In the reassessment report on the MSC website Moody Marine gives the fishery high passing scores for all three principles and recommends recertification.

The two independent reviewers contracted by Moody were Jake Rice, who is on salary as a bureaucrat with the Canadian federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans headquarters in Ottawa, and Michael Pawson, a stock assessment scientist who recently retired from the famous Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory.  Rice has had a number of previous MSC-related contracts - he was on the assessment team that led to the controversial certification of South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish fishery and Alaskan Pollock surveillance audits and was part of the MSC Objections Panel for the New Zealand Hoki fishery.

Reviewer A (assumed to be Rice) stated “I find no major points of disagreement with the assessment” while Reviewer B (assumed to be Pawson) found major shortcomings. He states that “I nevertheless consider that some of the marks awarded are too high particularly in relation to the stock status of M. paradoxus (which appears to be in a very depleted state) and the lack of evidence that this has been ameliorated during the certification period …I therefore question the assessment that the overall Performance of the South African Hake Trawl Fishery passes in relation to MSC Principles 1, 2 and 3, and that the fishery be certified according to the Marine Stewardship Council Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fisheries.”

It seems unlikely that Pawson will get another MSC contract!

Pawson’s view that M. paradoxus is in a much depleted state is consistent with the published scientific literature. The fishery comprises two species, an inshore species and an offshore species. The offshore species, M paradoxus is the more important of the two in the trawl fishery. According to a report published in the African Journal of Science in 2008 by Rebecca Rademeyer and coauthors, the offshore hake stock collapsed prior to the last MSC assessment (biomass declined by more than 10% from the unfished state) and has not recovered while being managed by an “Operation Management Procedure” developed by fishery consultants at the University of Cape Town. The MSC report only admits to it being at 15% of the unfished state – nevertheless a severely depleted state.  Commonly fishery management plans assume that the biomass at 20% of the unfished state represents a precautionary approach limit reference point below which fishing should cease completely.

The hope is that a new OMP under development by consultants at the University of Cape Town will be more effective than their previous one in rebuilding the stock.   Maybe, but is that "hope" enough to certify a trawl fishery on a collapsed stock as “sustainable”?

Below are the baseline spawning biomass trajectories for the South African hake from the 2008 paper by Rademeyer

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Marine Stewardship Council Loses Its Luster - Full article published by FIS

A "People with opinion" article by Barry Estabrook, formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet Magazine, has jsut been published by FIS.  The article provides an excellent and rational overview of the controversy that MSC is digging itself into with some of the certiciations and recertifications that it is engaged in. 

Read Barry's article here:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coalition of BC conservationists files objection to Sockeye salmon certification by MSC

Yesterday, a coalition of BC conservationists filed a notice of objection with the MSC's head office in London, focusing on the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery. This fishery recently became the subject of a federal judicial inquiry due to a worsening population collapse and widespread concerns over mismanagement.

Posted on 02/10/10 at 12:22pm by Benzinga Staff

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Objection m'lord! - Three new lawyers appointed by MSC to adjudicate objections to certification

MSC has just announced the appointment of three new lawyers as "Independent Adjudicators" to deal with the increasing number of objections being received to the eco-certification of controversial fisheries as sustainable.  So far NO objection has resulted in an assessment of sustainability under the MSC process being overturned, and a number (most?) have been dismissed out of hand by the adjudicator as having insufficient grounds to proceed further.

The MSC website states that the the Independent Adjudicator will assess the objection to determine whether it has ‘a reasonable prospect of success'. This depends primarily on whether:
a. The objection identifies a serious procedural or other irregularity in the assessment process that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment;
b. The score given for one or more performance indicators cannot be satisfactorily justified by the certifier due to factual errors, omission of relevant information or arbitrariness;
c. Additional information has been identified that is relevant to the assessment by the date of Determination and was not available or known to the certifier.

Most of the objections relate to shortcomings in the assignment of passing scores under the three MSC principles. These objections tend to be technical in nature related to fish population dynamics, stock assessment and the sustainability of management strategies. It is difficult to see how lawyers with no training in these areas could evaluate whether an objection should proceed.

If the objection is allowed to proceed, the certifier is given the opportunity to address the objection and then the adjudicator consults with the objector, the fishery and the certifier in order to determine whether the certifier has adequately addressed the issues raised in the objection.  If no resolution is achieved through consultation, the adjudicator will notify all parties that the matter will proceed to adjudication and convene an oral hearing of the objection.

If the objector(s) decides to proceed to oral hearing, they have to undertake to pay costs currently limited to £15,000.  During the oral hearing the objector(s), the certifier and the fishery present their respective cases.  The adjudicator may seek external expert advice on technical matters relating to the issues raised in the objection. (Hmmmm.....this part worries me a lot....the adjudicator can pick the technical would the adjudicator know who to pick and whether the advice was independent, expert and objective?)

Following the hearing, the adjudicator issues a written decision either confirming the original Determination by the certifier or remanding the Determination by the certifier. If the Determination is remanded the certifier must submit a written response to the MSC, the fishery and the objector.  The adjudicator then either accepts the response as an adequate resolution of the matters raised in the remand and approves the original (or amended Determination) or upholds the objection.  The certifier then amends the Final Report and Determination in the light of the findings and this forms the basis for the Public Certification Report.

Link to news item:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fraser Sockeye - Marine Stewardship Council Defends Certification Process

Kerry Coughlin, MSC regional director for the Americas, defends the MSC certification process currently ongoing for four sockeye salmon fisheries on Canada's Pacific coast in a February 1 article published by "The Tyee"

The independent MSC certifier for this fishery, Halifax based TAVEL (recently taken over by Moody International), submitted its final report for four Sockeye fisheries - Fraser, Skeena, Nass and Barkely on January 18 2010.  The assessment has been ongoing since 2003. In the final certification report by TAVEL, all four fisheries scored high, between 82 and 97 out of 100 accross the 3 MSC principles. 
TAVEL Scoring

The MSC process provides for expert review and public comment on the certifier's report before it is finalized. One would have to dig into the documentation to see how extensive these were and whether or not TAVEL adequately addressed them and revised their report.  Despite the high score, a number of conditions were set by TAVEL which need to be addressed by the fishing industry within a specified time period should certification be granted by MSC.

Currently the TAVEL determinations are under a 15 working day period during which a party may lodge a statement of intent to object to the determinations reached. Those lodging an objection that is allowed to proceed have to pony up 15K British Pounds to cover the cost of the process which is overseen by an independent adjudicator on the payroll of MSC.

Clearly this is a controversial assessment.  The return in 2009 of 1,370,000 was 13% of the pre-season forecast of 10,488,000 and the lowest in over 50 years. Thus far there is no evidence that this decline was due to overfishing and is more likely related to reduced productivity occurred after the juvenile fish began their migration to the ocean.  However, habitat and environmental degredation are serious concerns in this regard, including those related to the mushrooming Norwegian-owned salmon farms throughout the region.  Canada has launched a Judicial Inquiry to investigate the cause for the run collapse.  Some of the genetic components of these four fisheries have also been red-listed under the IUCN

In the Tyee interview, Kerry Coughlin would seem to suggest that if commercial fishing is not the cause of the Fraser decline, then the decline is not a reason to disallow certification.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moody Marine International takes over TAVEL

Moody Marine now dominates the globe as the main accredited certifier for MSC.

Remember this is a private company whose objective is to maximise the profit it makes out of each and every certification.  One strategy to cut costs and maximise profits is to swallow the competition.  Moody Marine now dominates the MSC certification market and has much more power to determine the price and quality of the product they sell. Before the choice used to be Moody Marine or Tavel.  Now it is Moody Marine or Moody Marine!


MOODY International has recently announced its acquisition of TAVEL Certification Inc. a Canadian based certification company.

TAVEL based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to conduct Sustainable Fishery Certifications and Chain of Custody Certifications. Moody International’s subsidiary, Moody Marine, is already one of the main MSC certifiers.

Details of the transaction are not being disclosed.

Dr Andy Hough, Managing Director of Moody Marine said: “By acquiring TAVEL, Moody Marine is pleased to expand further its global certification capacity. MSC fishery assessments are a long and complex process, and fishery clients and stakeholders must be assured of the stability of their certification body. By supporting ongoing TAVEL assessments at this time and by securing TAVEL’s resources, Moody Marine can ensure that all existing and future projects are completed efficiently and thoroughly.”

Steve Devitt, President of TAVEL Certification commented: “This sale provides TAVEL with access to additional professional and administrative support. We see this acquisition as a win-win for both TAVEL and Moody Marine, but most importantly for existing clients.”

Steve Devitt will remain in a consultative capacity in the medium term, and all TAVEL staff will continue with the company.