Monday, August 23, 2010

Seabird feathers fly as MSC and Pew face off over swordfish and tuna

In an open letter on the MSC website, Jim Humphreys, MSC Fisheries Regional Director for the Americas, responds to the Pew Environment Group’s recent campaign to oppose the assessment of the Southeast North Atlantic swordfish, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fisheries based in Florida as sustainable.  These fisheries are currently under MSC sustainability assessment by the independent accredited certifier, MRAG Americas.

Humphries argues that previous successful MSC assessments have resulted in significant improvements in some fisheries that have dramatically reduced impacts on other species.

The idea is that MSC certifies fisheries that are not really sustainable, or that have considerable negative impacts on the ecosystem, on condition that they promise to become sustainable and reduce ecosystem impacts over the next 5 years by fixing a bunch of issues.  MSC claims that this has led to improved fisheries management. 

Humphreys picks a strange example to support his claim – the South Africa hake fishery.  The offshore hake stock, Merluccius paradoxus, the major component of the fishery, is in a collapsed state but this did not stop MSC from recently recertifying the fishery as sustainable for a second 5 year period, against the protests of one of the independent reviewers who pointed out as much.

But it is not the management of the collapsed hake stock Humphreys is referring to.  It is the reduction in seabird mortality caused by collateral damage in the hake trawl fishery through contact with the trawl and trawl warps – supposedly down from 18,000 per year a few years back to 200 per year now as a result of MSC imposed conditions on the fishery..

The 18,000 per year estimate is published in a 2008 paper in Animal Conservation (Interactions between seabirds and deep-water hake trawl gear: an assessment of impacts in South African waters by Watkins, Petersen and Ryan).

The question is, what is the basis for Humphreys’ estimate of current mortality of only 200 per year?  The number seems unlikely.

There is another story within this story. 

The president of MRAG Americas, a private, for-profit consulting company, is Andy Rosenberg, former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Rosenberg also happens to be a Pew fellow and, according to the Gloucester Daily Times, appointed last fall by Lubchenco as a White House consultant on ocean policy.


More feathers may fly!


  1. How about the Cape Town office of MSC confirming the statement by Humphreys that the current seabird mortality in the South African offshore trawl fishery is down to 200?

    They can easily get this information from the seabird experts in Cape Town


    Fishyfellow, it's going mainstream

  3. Hey there, what can you show me about the buyers - what degree of culpability do they have? Thanks

  4. Humphreys misrepresented the truth regarding seabird bycatch reduction in the South African hake fishery. This is clearly evident in the latest MSC surveillance report for the fishery. If the MSC Fisheries Regional Director for the Americas cannot be trusted, what does this say about the organization?

    See page 57

    1. Please refer to the following paper on the reduction of seabird mortalities in the SA Hake trawl fishery: Maree, B. A., Wanless, R. M., Fairweather, T. P., Sullivan, B. J. and Yates, O. (2014), Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery. Animal Conservation. doi: 10.1111/acv.12126. BirdLife South Africa conducted the research and have shown a reduction of 99% in albatross mortalities and an overall reduction of 90% in seabird mortalities in their 7-year study. They state the following in a recent press release on the matter: "In 2004 the hake trawl fishery became the first fishery in Africa to obtain Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC). MSC certification ensures that fished stocks remain stable and healthy, that ecosystem-wide impacts are minimised and not significant, and that there is continued monitoring and compliance to prescribed fishing regulations. As a condition of certification, the fishery had to assess the risk of seabird bycatch. They discovered that each year around 10 000 seabirds (70% of which were albatrosses) were being killed accidentally. BirdLife South Africa recommended the use of a single measure – called a bird scaring line, to address this problem, and in collaboration with fishing companies they got onboard and conducted scientific research into the effectiveness of the measure. Now their data, collected over five years, has been published in the international, scientific journal Animal Conservation, and shows a 90% reduction in seabird deaths and 99% reduction in albatross deaths since 2006".