Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Score jiggling under the MSC process to ensure fisheries sustainability certification?

Do third party MSC accredited Certifying Bodies jiggle scores to ensure a Pass on sustainability when responding to critical public comments, independent reviews and formal objections?

This issue has been raised recently by the Objection to the certification of the Faroese Pelagic Organisation North-East Atlantic Mackerel Fishery by Marine Scotland.  Marine Scotland is the lead marine management organisation in Scotland, bringing together the functions of the Fisheries Research Services (Marine Scotland Science), the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (Marine Scotland Compliance) and the Scottish Government Marine Directorate.

The Independent Adjudicator appointed by the Marine Stewardship Council to evaluate the objection, Melanie Carter, posted a notice on the MSC website dated 3 September 2010 outlining a query on the revision of the score on one of the fishery Performance Indicators by the Certifying Body Det Norske Veritas.

In responding to the objection by Marine Scotland, Det Norske Veritas had revised down the score for PI 3.1.1 to 65 resulting in the overall score for Principle 3 going down to 79.9.  This is a Fail under Principle 3 and therefore a Fail in terms of Sustainability determination under the MSC process.

When Melanie Carter pointed out this blunder to Det Norske Veritas they immediately responded “Our Assessment teams did not intend failing the fishery but we did overlook the effect of the rescoring on the weighting table (the total scores). DNV has been in contact with both experts [on the assessment team] yesterday and today. The assessment team wishes to rescore PI 3.1.1 to 70 giving it a total of 80,5.”  

This looks a lot like subjective score jiggling to ensure a Pass.

This brings to mind a previous case of alleged score jiggling under the MSC eco-certification process.  The controversial “skin-of-the-teeth” 2006/2007 sustainability assessment of the NZ Hoki fishery by SGS Netherlands resulted in a formal objection by NZ WWF in July 2006.  WWF claimed that there was “a procedural failure, because the Final Report does not provide enough evidence to show how the assessment team derived the scores for Performance Indicators that were changed between the Public Comment Draft Report and the Final Report.”

The allegation is that in responding to critical WWF comments on the Public Comment Draft report, SGS revised down some of the scores, but to compensate other PI scores, not subject to criticism by WWF, were revised up to ensure that an overall passing score was retained under each of the 3 Principles.

Recall that no fishery that has gone through the secret MSC pre-assessment process into full assessment has failed to achieve a Pass on Sustainability (except for a UK lobster fishery which fell out of the certification process at some point, possibly lack of funds to pay the CB?). Further recall that no public comment, independent peer review or formal objection has resulted in the overturning of a Certification Body Sustainability Determination.