Monday, July 26, 2010

Objection to MSC certification of Ross Sea toothfish to be upheld?

The certification of the Ross Sea longline fishery for Antarctic toothfish hangs in the balance. Independent Adjudicator Michael Lodge will decide in the next few days whether to uphold the ASOC objection to Moody Marine Ltd’s determination, or issue a further remand to Moody to properly address the issues that have been raised.

So far Moody has refused to blink.

In its 2nd June response to Lodge’s initial remand, Moody fought back admitting no changes to its scoring guideposts or scores – 89% for Sustainability of Exploited Stock, 89% for Maintenance of Ecosystem and 93% for Effective Management System. An A+ for sustainability.

Remember though, this is an “exploratory” fishery on a long-lived, slow-growing, low fecundity top predator in a largely pristine ecosystem. As with most exploratory fisheries, we only have rudimentary knowledge of the biology, life history, stock structure and migration of toothfish in the Ross Sea, and management measures must be considered preliminary at best.

Although the CCAMLR stock assessment is the best available, it admits to considerable uncertainty in many aspects. This was pointed out in a critical review of Moody’s draft report by Dr Michael Pawson, an expert in stock assessment who formerly worked at the famous Lowestoft Fisheries Laboratory, but Moody was characteristically dismissive.

In it’s 21 June comments on Moody’s response ASOC does not hold back: “As explained clearly in his decision, the IA[Independent Adjudicator] has had very serious concerns about the process MML [Moody] undertook with regard to this certification and with the conclusions it reached. Nonetheless, MML’s response is, at very best, superficial. It has largely re-stated its existing rationales and has not provided any new, substantive justification or thinking – let alone changing a single score. The response suggests that MML does not take the adjudication process seriously.”

Will Michael Lodge agree or will he give Moody one more chance?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MSC sockeye salmon certification - who profits?

The David Suzuki Foundation has just produced a useful backgrounder on the controversial Marine Stewardship Council certification of BC sockeye salmon.
The backgrounder states that The Marine Stewardship Council eco-label allows certified fisheries to brand themselves as a “sustainable” source of seafood. Fisheries voluntarily apply for certification, and they do so by hiring a for-profit company to carry out the assessment.

While I don't profess to understand the whole MSC process, some additional information might be useful for those not familiar with the relationship between MSC as a non-profit organization and the profit-maximising companies that do the actual assessments.

MSC provides a Fishery Standard containing Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing as well as a manual of Fisheries Assessment Methodology and Guidance to Certification Bodies Including Default Assessment Tree and Risk-Based Framework.  Only companies that are accredited by Accreditation Services International GmbH (ASI) to the MSC accreditation requirements can do fishery sustainability certification assessments under the MSC process.  These companies apply the MSC Standard and use the MSC Methods and Guidance manual to do the actual assessments and determine certifiable fisheries.

The MSC website gives the following list of accredited certifiers:
  • Det Norske Veritas Certification AS
  • Food Certification International Ltd (FCI)
  • Global Trust Certifications Ltd (Previously I:FQC Ltd)
  • MacAlister Elliott & Partners Ltd
  • Moody Marine Ltd
  • MRAG Americas
  • OrganizaciĆ³n Internacional Agropecuaria (OIA)
  • Scientific Certification Systems
  • Tavel Certification Inc.
This is not completely up-to-date because Moody Marine Ltd (which has carried out a number of MSC assessments) recently acquired one of the competition, Tavel Certification Inc.

What is important here is that the accredited certifiers are all  companies seeking to maximise profits through the MSC sustainability and eco-labelling system.  To be competitive they can vary the fee they charge fishing enterprises seeking certification and then seek ways to cut the costs of doing the actual certification. One of the costs to the certifier involves hiring outside experts to assist with the assessments because of limited in-house expertise, and to do independent reviews of draft assessments.  These experts include government fisheries scientists and academics who may already be involved in advising governments and RFMOs on the sustainable management of  various fisheries.

As a non-profit, MSC is funded by donation and by the fee it charges components of the supply chain for displaying its blue eco-label. Note that some enterprises that achieve certification choose not to actually use the MSC eco-label in order to avoid paying the fee.  MSC also runs a second process for "Chain of Custody certifications" in which an overlapping list of companies are accredited to certify businesses that meet the MSC Chain of Custody standard for seafood traceability. A further source of income to MSC is the objection process.  Bodies filing an objection (usually conservation organizations funded by private donations) are charged a significant fee by MSC which presumably partly offsets the salaries they pay to four lawyers who are retained as "independent adjudicators" to judge the validity of objections.




Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All objections to Fraser Sockeye Salmon MSC certification dismissed

In his ruling handed down July 12 2010, Independent Adjudicator Wylie Spicer, Q.C., dismissed all objections to the MSC certification of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon as sustainable. Certification will now proceed and the BC Salmon Marketing Council can apply the blue MSC sustainability label to all products from the Fraser River sockeye fishery. The objections were filed jointly by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, David Suzuki Foundation and the Skeena Wild Conservation Trust.

This is Spicer’s first adjudication in his new job on salary to MSC. In his findings, he sets the tone early on by stating that “Other IA’s, in recent decisions, recognizing the purpose of the OP [Objection Procedure], have described the standard of review available as being “narrow” and requiring “deference to the determinations of the certification body” (Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish Longline Fishery decision at para. 8).”

Further into his report Spicer notes that the Objector’s arguments “are really taking issue with whether the Fraser River Fishery can stand up to scrutiny given the MSC Principles and Criteria.” He notes that “this type of review is not the purpose of the OP. The purpose of the OP is to review the work of the CB [Certification Body] to see whether it made an error that materially affected the outcome of the Determination.”

Within this narrow ambit of the OP, Spicer finds that no such errors were made. Procedures were followed and the scores are justified.

For those of us that value our children’s future more than MSC procedures and the short-term economic benefits accrued by the BC Salmon Marketing Council, there are some major concerns with this certification.

Firstly, the productivity of Fraser River salmon is in free-fall as pointed out by the “Think Tank of Scientists” that met in December 2009 at Simon Fraser University: “The productivity of the Fraser river sockeye salmon, which is the number of adults produced per spawner, has been declining since the mid-1990s to the point where Fraser River sockeye are almost unable to replace themselves.” No matter what scoring guideposts were set up and what scores were allocated by the Moody Marine assessment team, a population that is “almost unable to replace itself” cannot be considered a candidate for a sustainable fishery.

Secondly, two distinct genetic components of Fraser sockeye, those spawning in Cultus Lake and Sakinaw Lake, have been found to be endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The Canadian government however decided not to list them under the Species at Risk Act, citing socio-economic considerations.  Listing would have mandated an explicit rebuilding strategy. The continuing loss of biodiversity should be a major concern for those that care about our planet’s future.

So, MSC adds another controversial certification to their growing list, the perfect record of all objections to any assessment being dismissed is retained, and public confidence in the process, and hence the value of the MSC label, is diminished.