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

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