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!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MSC slashes objection fee

MSC announced August 2 that it is slashing the fee cap on lodging an objection to a fishery sustainability determination from £15,000 to £5,000.  This sounds like a lucky break for the public who might want to voice concerns regarding some aspect of the sustainability assessment process carried out under MSC.

That is until you stop to think.  A few years ago I paid a fee to my local city council to object to a new property evaluation they carried out on my house.  The objection was heard by an independent adjudicator hired by the city and I had a few dollars shaved off my annual property taxes as a result.  

Like I own my house, the public owns this property, the fish resource.  But, unlike my city council, the MSC has no legal standing.  Why should we pay a group that has not legal standing for the right to object to a wrongful finding related to our property that could well impact its future value in terms of long-term public good?

It makes no sense until you realize that the public are not the client of the MSC process - the industry is.  An objection delays certification of the fishery as sustainable, increases costs for the independent certifier (e.g. Moody Marine Ltd., a for-profit company accredited under MSC standards) and annoys the client.  The fee reduces the number of objections lodged by public organizations and lessons the salary costs of the 4 lawyers hired by MSC as Independent Adjudicators to hear and judge objections.

Perhaps the reduced fee will encourage more public objections to controversial MSC sustainability certifications.  But £5,000  is still pretty steep when you consider what you get.  No objection to a sustainability determination has been upheld by an MSC Adjudicator thus far.

You got nothing for £15,000  now you will get nothing for £5,000 - not really a bargain.

MSC income, was £8 million in 2008/2009 -about half from charitable grants and half from licensing its blue eco-label to components of the supply chain for products from certified fisheries.  The right thing to do would be to eliminate the objection fee altogether.  MSC can afford it, although it may mean putting on hold the opening of a new administrative office in some further corner of the World.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Aker Biomarine krill based profits up

Recently MSC certified as sustainable, the Aker Biomarine profits are up based on products from its krill fishery in the Antarctic according to a report on today

By SeafoodSource staff 
06 August, 2010 - Oslo, Norway-based krill harvester and biotechnology group Aker Biomarine posted a quarterly profit for the first time thanks to a strong harvest and strong sales of its omega-3 fatty acid-rich products for human consumption.

What price does one put on preserving the Antarctic foodchain? 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ross sea toothfish objection - a flustered partial response?

The Marine Stewardship Council Independent Adjudicator (IA) responded in part on 2 August to the latest submissions from Moody Marine Ltd and Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).  The numerous typos are a clue, but there is other evidence that the IA may be becoming flustered.  Perhaps he senses that Ross Sea toothfish is a public symbol of ignorance regarding sustainable fisheries and inherent flaws in the MSC approach?  As a lawyer he must be aware that precedence is being set with each decision he makes.

Given almost no concessions by Moody to his previous remand, the IA now proceeds, step by step, to further dissect, and in some cases revoke, concerns, especially with regard to Principle 2 (Maintenance of Ecosystem), “that that there was a serious procedural irregularity that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment”.

In doing so, he laments that MSC Fisheries Certification Methodology “leaves a substantial margin of discretion to the certification body in the way in which it sets scoring guideposts against individual performance indicators.  Almost by definition, the circumstances on which an adjudicator could interfere with the exercise of that discretion must be extremely limited.”

This sentiment was echoed recently by another IA on the objection to the controversial Moody Marine Ltd Fraser River sockeye salmon determination when he remarked “Other IA’s, in recent decisions, recognizing the purpose of the OP [Objection Procedure], have described the standard of review available [by the IA to an objection] as being “narrow” and requiring “deference to the determinations of the certification body”.”

In keeping with the narrow scope and need for deference, the IA finds that, although a number of the scores against the Performance Indicator Scoring Guideposts (PISGs) for Ross Sea toothfish appear “generous”, and although Moody has thus far argued against making any revisions based on objections, “I am not persuaded that the certification body made a mistake as to material fact, failed to consider material information or acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in awarding the scores that were given”.

Although the IA again remands several of the Principle 3 (Effective Management System) PSIGs and associated scores for further consideration by Moody, none of these would appear to be “show-stoppers” as far as certification is concerned.  Once the IA has Moody’s response in hand with respect to Principle 3, he says he will then consider the responses to his earlier remand against Principle 1 indicators (Sustainability of Exploited Stock). These do contain some real “show-stoppers”, particularly with regard to the very speculative knowledge regarding the life-history of Ross Sea toothfish.  Will Moody be let off the hook on these accounts too?  Wait and see.