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.