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.


  1. If this goes into assessment MSC will get even more negative publicity. I wonder if MSC is in a position to ask certifiers not to take this one on? I can only imagine they are sick of all the objections going on lately - ours and other organizations' - and would like to avoid getting into the bluefin debate.

  2. CBC has a recent News item on the western Atlantic Bluefin tuna stock ( It quotes DFO scientist John Nielson and DFO bureaucrat Faith Scattalon as saying that the new (2010) assessment of the stock is more optimistic than the 2008 assessment and that the numbers are up, suggesting that it is rebuilding. I browsed the ICCAT assessment report and don't see the basis for this optimism. Would appreciate some details on this from somebody that was at the ICCAT assessment.

  3. When you go to your government link that you have provided it says that, that page can no longer be found. Clearly they know something is wrong with that whole statement of theirs.