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.