Thursday, January 7, 2010

Case # 6 SW Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish longline fishery

(CCAMLR Subareas 88.1 and 88.2)

MSC Assessment completed by Moody Marine Ltd in 2009- Currently under Objection Procedure (Jan 2010).

Latest scientific assessment available – CCAMLR 2007 (2009 assessment not yet available on the web?)

This fishery is on the Antarctic toothfish Dissostichus mawsoni, a conspecific of the infamous Patogonian toothfish D. eleginoides which is found further north and commonly marketed as Chilean Sea Bass. This means that supply chains (both legal and under the table) are already well developed for the marketing of D. mawsoni around the world.

The “Unit of Certification” (UoC) comprises vessels belonging to Argos Georgia Ltd UK), Sanford Ltd (NZ) and New Zealand Longline Line Ltd (NZ). This poses a bit of problem right of the bat because there are also Argentine, Korean, Norwegian, Russian, South African, Spanish, and Uruguayan vessels involved in the fishery - 21 vessels in Subarea 88.1 and 15 vessels for Subarea 88.2. Some of these countries have been implicated in the collapse of toothfish populations elsewhere.

Both the fishing effort and the catch have been increasing over the last decade. Currently the catch limit is 3,267t (exceeding scientific advice, see below). All vessels are supposed to carry at least two scientific observers, one of which is appointed “in accordance with the CCAMLR scheme”, so IUU catches are considered to be low.

The Ross Sea toothfish fishery is in what is called an “exploratory phase”, during which information is collected on the biology and productivity of the stock - information that will help in doing an assessment of the sustainable yield for a commercial-scale fishery. Although the catches have been increasing, the current stock assessment is still highly uncertain. The catch-at-age data comprise a relatively short time series, and are not very informative for determining current or initial stock size. The tag– recapture data provide the best information on stock size, but the total number of tagged fish recaptured in the Ross Sea is still relatively small. The population model of stock size and yield is therefore uncertain but should improve as more data are collected.

Scientific advice by CCAMLR is based on projections of the modelled stock under different catch levels. The catch level advised is either the constant catch that results in a 10% probability of the spawning biomass dropping below 20% of its median pre-exploitation level over a 35-year harvesting period, or the catch that results in the median escapement at the end of a 35-year period being 50% of the median pre-exploitation level. Which ever one is lower is selected as the scientific advice.

The projection carried out in the 2007 assessment under a constant catch of 2,700t is shown below. This trajectory would be consistent with a stock being fished down towards the biomass that gives MSY and would not be considered to be overfished. However the confidence intervals are wide and there is also a number of untested assumptions in the model. One of these is that the steepness in the stock-recruit model is 0.75. This implies when the spawning stock is depleted to 20% of the unexploited level, recruitment remains at 75% of the maximum recruitment level. While this is a reasonable assumption for a number of species, it is not clear that it is reasonable for this stock until more data are available. If recruitment declines faster with decreasing stock size than is currently assumed, the stock could become rapidly depleted under the 2,700t catch level. Other important uncertainties in the projection are the age at maturity and the age of recruitment into the fishery (see ASOC objection below). Note also that the current catch limit being implemented (3,267t) exceeds the scientific advice of 2,700t.

The Moody Marine Ltd assessment of the sustainability of the fishery resulted in passing scores on all three MSC Principles: Sustainability of Exploited Stock, Maintenance of Ecosystem, and Effective Management Systems. However, they did attach a number of conditions for ongoing certification. Knowledge on the life history and population characteristics of the target stock must be improved. Stock assessment must be improved through a wider tagging program to reduce uncertainty. The impact of the longline fishery on the benthic habitat must be better understood. There needs to be better information of the trophic effects of the fishery and the impacts of bycatch.

An objection to the Moody Marine report was filed by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition on 11 December 2009 (although a member, the WWF did not participate in the objection). ASOC represents more than 30 environmental and conservation organizations and is the only NGO allowed by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties and CCAMLR to participate in their respective meetings. In their objection, ASOC expressed grave concerns about the lack of a precautionary approach adopted by Moody Marine and the MSC in their determination that the fishery is sustainable and can therefore be certified and carry the MSC ecolabel.

ASOC claimed that there was an absence of any real understanding of its natural history, the impacts of the fishery on stocks, and in stock size itself. They also claimed that, given the large body of information regarding the negative impacts of significantly reducing the prevalence of top predators in ecosystems elsewhere, it is not precautionary to allow it in the Ross Sea, particularly in the face of recent science indicating the age of sexual maturity is a mean age of 16, far different (almost doubled) from the models on which management of the fishery currently is based. ASOC concludes that fishing now and doing the science later is in not precautionary. They note that at the 2009 CCAMLR Fish Stock Assessment (FSA) meeting, the age of recruitment for Antarctic toothfish was revised upwards from 8–10 years to a mean of 16 years. They consider that this, coupled with “juvenisation” of the population (big, old fish removed) means that upwards of 75% of the fish landed up to this point likely have been pre-breeders. The implications of this have yet to be considered by CCAMLR FSA. They also note that both CCAMLR and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs) have listed the Ross Sea in an agreed list of the first 11 of a representative network of marine reserves spread across the Southern Ocean. ASOC submits that certification of this fishery as “sustainable” by the MSC and its certifying agent is contrary to the “ecosystem as a whole” principle and precautionary approach of CCAMLR, given all of the realities outlined in their appeal. Moreover, ASOC claims that the “conditions” proposed by Moody Marine, however likely or unlikely ever to be realized, would not change the problems with the underlying fundamentals.

The Independent Adjudicator, (appointed and on salary to MSC, and therefore not at arms length?) will now determine if the basis of the objection has standing. If not, the objection will be dismissed. If it has standing, then Moody Marine is required to review the issues identified. After review Moody Marine, in consultation (with whom?), may make changes to the Final Report and Determination. If the issues identified in the objection are still not considered addressed (by whom – the Adjudicator?), a specified adjudication process will begin. That process can take approximately three months. Moody Marine has until 5pm GMT 22nd January 2010 to submit their response.

Only one fishery has ever gone past the pre-assessment phase and not passed assessment according to David Agnew, Chair of Technical Advisory Board of MSC. Nobody seems to know what fishery that was. Will this be the second?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog on the Ross Sea Toothfish MSC certification by Moody Marine. Here is a link to a related article by the the "The Fisheries Secretariat" (Sweden). It too questions the integrity of the Moody Marine Ltd sustainability determination. It also answers your question regarding the the only fishery that failed cerification - a British lobster fishery. This was not due to an objection procedure. Keep blogging on this topic!

    Link to The Fisheries Secretariat: