Thursday, November 17, 2011

MSC Sustainable Fisheries Certification Works says new report

In October 2010 MSC announced that it had selected, from the various contract bidders, MRAG Ltd to undertake the first detailed analysis of the environmental impacts that have resulted from the first ten years of MSC’s fishery certification program.  MRAG was supported in this contract by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd and Meridian Prime Ltd. 

These consulting companies have recently submitted their joint report.  You get what you pay for so no surprise that the report concluded that MSC eco-certification really works. 

The media release states that this is an “independent” study.  Not so.  MRAG Ltd. is a consulting company heavily engaged in the MSC certification game.  Further, one of the report authors, David Agnew, is a long time MSC insider as Chair of the Technical Advisory Board and is now on staff as MSC Director of Standards.

The study focuses on improvements in eight outcome performance indicators: stock status; population reference points; stock recovery; retained species; bycatch species; endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species; habitats and environments.

Improvements were purported to have been evidenced over the period commencing with the secret MSC pre-assessment, through assessment and into the certification.

The conclusion from the study was that MSC works.

Erik Stokstad, writing in Science is not convinced. Scoring is subjective and there is no control study (i.e. how did fisheries not under MSC certification progress over the same period?).

While MSC continues to certify fisheries that are data-deficient, clearly not sustainable or which cause unacceptable collateral damage on other components of the ecosystem we, the resource owners, should reserve judgement regarding the efficacy of the program. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Objections stall MSC certifications of US and Canadian swordfish

Two bids for MSC sustainability certification by pelagic longline fisheries on swordfish have run into objections.  These objections are currently under “adjudication” by an MSC appointed “Independent Adjudicator”.

The two fisheries seeking certification are the North West Atlantic Canada Longline Swordfish backed by the consulting company Intertek Moody Marine Ltd. and the Southeast US North Atlantic Swordfish Fishery backed by the consulting company MRAG Americas.

These consulting companies are heavy hitters who don’t take kindly to obstacles being placed in the way of their clients and they are fighting back.

Moody was acquired by Intertek for US$730 million in March 2011.  Moody itself swallowed smaller Canadian competitor TAVEL Certification Inc. in December 2009.   

MRAG Americas is sister company to MRAG Ltd. in the UK which is owned by Sir John Beddington, chief scientific advisor to the UK Government.  Sir John is not without controversy.  The president of MRAG Americas is Andrew Rosenberg, a post doctoral assistant to Beddington at Imperial College London in the early 1990s.  Rosenberg went on to become the deputy director of NOAA’s NMFS before leaving to form MRAG Americas.  He is currently also special advisor to Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce and Administrator of NOAA.

The objection to the Canadian longline fishery certification was filed by The Ecology Action Centre (EAC), The David Suzuki Foundation, Oceana and the Sea Turtle Conservancy on 20 September 2011.  The objection to the US Longine fishery was filed by the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) on 27 September 2011 and is supported by Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity, Ecology Action Centre and the Animal Welfare Institute.

The objections cite what have become standard concerns regarding the “lowering of the bar” by consulting companies in favor of their clients when it comes to MSC Principle 1. This principle requires evidence of sustainable management strategies that meet the UNFA Precautionary Approach requirements.  Procedural issues with regard to the certifications are also raised in the objections.

More importantly, the objections take task under MSC Principle 2 regarding the impact, and lack of monitoring, of indiscriminate pelagic longline fisheries on bycatch species, particularly those species that fall into the ETP category (endangered, threatened or protected).

Of particular concern are species like Shortfin Mako shark, Porbeagle shark, Loggerhead turtle and Leatherback turtle.  The Committee on the Status of Endangerd Wildlife  in Canada considers Shortfin Mako shark to be “Threatened” while Porbeagle shark, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles are considered “Endangered”.  Under the US Endangered Species Act, Loggerhead turtles are considered “Threatened” and Leatherback turtles “Endangered”. 

In addition to ETP species the additive impact of swordfish longline fisheries on overfished tuna species is a concern, especially on Bluefin tuna, off both the US and Canada.

As MSC appointed and salaried lawyer Wylie Spicer mulls over both objections, as well as stakeholder submissions and the ardent counter-responses of Intertek Moody and MRAG Americas, before coming to his “verdict” as the "independent adjudicator" under the complicated pseudo-legal objection procedure put in place by MSC, remember what is at stake.

Swordfish and bycatch species are public property and should be managed for our long-term public good, and those of our children and their children.  This includes non-use value such as biodiversity.  If bycatch species are threatened by pelagic linetrawl swordfish fisheries then we are the losers if these objections fail.    

If you like to eat swordfish, remember that there is an alternative to the indiscriminate pelagic linetrawl that you can source.   The North West Atlantic Canada harpoon swordfish fishery was certified sustainable by MSC in June 2010.  It has zero bycatch.

Additional information on the Southeast US swordfish certification objection here 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should MSC revoke Newfoundland Grand Bank shrimp certification?

Can a fishery be considered sustainably managed when the scientific advice is consistently rejected by the management authority in favour of larger TACs?

Clearly the Marine Stewardship Council and Moody Marine think so because the fishery in NAFO area 3L is still certified.

Since 2009 NAFO fisheries managers have set TACs higher than those recommended by NAFO scientists.  In addition, Denmark in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, unhappy with their share of the TAC, set their own additional quota in several years, a unilateral action allowed under NAFO rules.

The latest incident is the 2011 decision for the 2012 TACScientific advice from NAFO was that the TAC for 2012 should be less than 9,350 t to reduce the risk of continuing decline.  NAFO fisheries Managers instead set the TAC at 12,000 t which will incur a relatively high risk of continuing decline.

This resource peaked in biomass in 2007 and has been in steady decline ever since based on both Canadian and EU survey data.  The decline is expected to continue under  the 2012 TAC set by NAFO.  Is this a sustainably managed fishery?

Monday, September 26, 2011

BC Dogfish Fishery - Certified sustainable

There are a couple of interesting aspects to the recent MSC certification of the inside and outside fisheries in the British Columbia hook and line spiny dogfish fisheries.

This is apparently the first shark fishery to get MSC certification.  Sharks tend to be long-living, slow-growing, late-maturing, low-fecundity species.  This combination of life-history traits means that they are vulnerable to overfishing. 

A poorly managed commercial fishery on low productivity species like spiny dogfish typically ends up as a “mining operation” and is seldom sustainable.  This seems to have been the case with the BC spiny dogfish. 

The fishery dates back to 1870.  Catches in the liver oil fishery peaked at over 12,000 t for the inside fishery and over 25,000 t for the offshore fishery in the 1940s. 

Although indices of population abundance are not available over this early period, it can be reasonably assumed that the resource was essentially “mined out” in the 1940s and 1950s.  Catches dropped off sharply in the 1960s and have remained low.

Since the late 1970s, spiny dogfish has been fished as a source of food (including fins for soup) rather than liver oil, using longline and trawl gear, with total annual landings averaging about 1,500 t in the inshore and about the same in the offshore.

Scientific survey and commercial catch rate indices of abundance are all from the 1980s onwards, well after the initial “mining” period had ended, so are uninformative about the big decline from overfishing in the 1940s and 1950s.  In 2010 the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) carried out the first attempt at an assessment of stock status since 1987,  This was prompted by the eco-certification bid being made by the fishing industry and a concurrent and pending species-at-risk (of biological extinction) evaluation by COSEWIC under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  A strange concurrence of events! 

The abundance indices in the DFO assessment showed no clear trends and did not support the fitting of a mathematical population model to the data.  Conclusions were therefore drawn from expert opinion and subjective evaluation.  The assessment did not conclude that the fishery was sustainable, but rather that “There is no immediate conservation concern”.  Given no evidence of a recovery from the decline that must have occurred in the 1940s and 1950s from overfishing, it seems likely that the population remains in a depleted state.

MSC eco-certification begun under contract to the consulting company TAVEL in 2008.  TAVEL was taken over by Moody Marine Ltd part way through the assessment.  Moody initially indicated they would apply the default assessment approach.  This requires quantitative estimates of stock size and the impact of the fishery under Principle 1 of the MSC process.  However, when Moody realized in 2010, based on the new DFO stock assessment, that the data were sparse and uncertain, they switched to the so-called “Risk Based Framework” (RBF) for evaluating Principle 1. 

RBF was introduced by MSC in 2009 to enable scoring of fisheries in data deficient situations, particularly for the “outcome” performance indicators associated with Principles 1 and 2.  

MSC states on its website that “The first years of MSC certification have shown that the strong focus on quantitative data, to prove a fishery is operating sustainably, can make it difficult for smaller and more traditionally operated fisheries to become MSC certified. This is particularly true for, but not limited to, small-scale and Developing World fisheries.”     

The last sentence is particularly pertinent.  Application of an RBF type approach to artisanal fisheries in underdeveloped countries which have a history of supporting small catches (thus proving the fishery to be sustainable) seems justified.  It would be unfair to discriminate in the market place against such fisheries because they are unable to meet the quantitative criteria applied in a standard quantitative MSC assessment of stock status and impact of the fishery. 

Should RBF also be used for industrial scale commercial fisheries in developed countries such as Canada which have access to government research programs and modern methods of data collection and analysis?  Some would argue that data deficiency in such a fishery would be reason enough for it to fail a sustainability assessment. Under “reversal of burden of proof” the fishery is guilty until proven innocent.  At best, RBF, by its nature, can only provide weak evidence that a fishery is sustainable.  It can’t make up for the lack of data and quantitative analysis.   

Two methods are applied in the MSC RBF approach: a system based on expert judgment (Scale Intensity Consequence Analysis- SICA), and a semi-quantitative analysis to assess potential risk (Productivity Susceptibility Analysis - PSA).  SICA is based on the structured collection of qualitative information from a diverse group of stakeholders. 

Similar subjective risk-based approaches have been around for a while but have always remained on the periphery of the scientific evaluation and management of fisheries.  They are generally considered useful in a first-pass or triage approaches to select priority high risk cases for more comprehensive scientific analysis. Generally they are used to identify “near death” cases, not  the“healthy” ones. 

In the case of BC spiny dogfish, RBF was applied to MSC Principle 1: “A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of the exploited populations and, for those populations that are deplete the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery.

When RBF is applied to MSC Principle 1, the focus is on the performance indicator PI 1.1.1 which has to do with stock status.  Other PIs under Principle 1 are either automatically given a passing score of 80 or are not applied in the scoring, except one.  This PI, “stock rebuilding”, is only scored if “stock status” is given a score of 80 or more but will be noted under “conditions” in the assessment document if the score for the first PI is less than 80.

Both the inside and outside stocks of spiny dogfish achieved scores of 80 for SICA but only 68 for PSA leading to conditions being place on the sustainability certification.  Under MSC rules, a fishery is only eligible to use the RBF for PI 1.1.1 in subsequent MSC assessments if the MSC scores resulting from both the SICA and PSA analyses are 80 or greater.  This means that RBF may not be used for any subsequent MSC certifications for the BC spiny dogfish fishery.  They have used their "get out of jail free card".  

The conditions placed on the BC spiny dogfish certification require that measures be put in place that will reduce the RBF risk score for PI 1.1.1 within the current certification and that by the time of reassessment in 5 yrs there needs to be a direct measure of stock status that can be compared with biologically based reference points.

To sum up, MSC has certified a fishery on a species with a life history that makes it vulnerable to overfishing, on a population that is probably still depleted from historic overfishing, and in the absence of a quantitative estimate of stock and acceptable harvest levels. 

RBF cannot be used in the next assessment of the stock in 5 yrs time according to MSC's own rules.  Unless new surveys and additional research are initiated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the stakeholders, this certification will have been premature and temporary.  It will not build public confidence in the MSC eco-label for sustainable fisheries.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

MSC Surveillance Report - South African Hake Trawl Fishery

The first MSC surveillance audit for the recently certified (2010) South African Hake trawl fishery has been completed by Moody Marine Ltd. and the report is now available on the MSC website.

The assessment is for both the inshore hake fishery on Mercluccius capensis, and the offshore fishery on Merluccius paradoxus.  The offshore fishery is the more important of the two but this stock has been in a severely depleted state since the early 1970s as a result of overfishing. 

Although fisheries on both stocks obtained a score of more than 80 under each of the three MSC principles, a condition was placed under Principle 1 for the offshore hake fishery.  This condition required that there should be improvements in stock status showing trends of recovery.

The Moody Marine team based their audit on the latest assessment by MARAM (Marine Resource Assessment and Management Group).  This is the consulting company contracted by the South African government to do the assessments and develop the management strategy. 

The latest MARAM assessment is not consistent with a recovery trend in spawner biomass for the offshore stock.  Spawner biomass is only at about 60% of the estimated BMSY management target and female spawning biomass has recently shown a declining trend. 

 The Moody team suggested that the continuing low spawner biomass indicated the need to develop a new, more effective, management strategy but concluded that there was nevertheless enough evidence that a recovery was underway for the fishery to pass the audit. 

It should be noted that this stock has been managed under various different management strategies (locally called operational management procedures) developed by MARAM since 1991, but all of them have proved to be ineffective in rebuilding the stock.

The certification of the South African offshore hake fishery as sustainable by MSC in 2010 and the passing of the first surveillance audit by Moody in 2011 is misleading.  Consumers should not be fooled by the MSC eco-label applied to products from this fishery.  These products are not from a sustainably managed fishery.  South African offshore hake remains severely depleted, there is no sign of significant recovery, and the current management procedure appears to be flawed and needs to be replaced by one that may be more effective.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is the Newfoundland Grand Bank shrimp fishery sustainable?

The large boat northern shrimp Pandalus borealis fisheries off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada) have just received MSC eco-certification as sustainable.  Small boat fisheries on the same stocks were certified sustainable by MSC in 2009 as the “inshore fishery on Canadian northern prawn”. 

The shrimp fishery on the Grand Bank of Newfoundland (NAFO Divisions 3LNO, Canadian Shrimp Fishing Area 7) was considered separately in the certification process because it is a straddling stock that extends beyond the 200nm EEZ and is therefore managed by an RFMO, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).

Given the serial depletion of most Grand Bank fisheries through rampant overfishing by Spain, Portugal, Canada and other nations over the last 60 years, one would think that sustainable management of the shrimp fishery by NAFO would be a high priority and that passing MSE certification would be a walk in the park.

Well, it was a walk in the park.  Moody International Marine Ltd., the for-profit consulting company that did the assessment under contract to the fishing industry, awarded the fishery scores of 84.4% for Principle 1 (Sustainability of Exploited Stock), 84% for Principle 2 (Maintenance of Ecosystem) and 81.6% for Principle 3 (Effective Management System). 

There were some low scores within these overall averages that led to conditions being placed on the sustainability determination.  The fishery is certified and products can carry the blue MSC logo, but to ensure ongoing certification MSC requires some progress to be demonstrated in annual audits by Moody towards improving these areas.

So where were some of the low scores?  Harvest control rules and tools – 70%.  Turns out there aren’t any.  Neither are there any exploitation targets or limits.  Fishery specific objectives (management objectives) – 60%.  Again, there aren’t any.

“Decision making processes” got a score of 80% and “Compliance and enforcement” got 90%. This is inconsistent with reality.

Scientific advice on a sustainable TAC for 2009 was 25kt.  NAFO went against the scientific advice and awarded a TAC of 30kt.  Denmark in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland did not agree to their share of the TAC and therefore set their own quota in excess of what they were allocated.  This is allowed under the NAFO Objection Clause.

Scientific advice for 2010 was that the current exploitation rate of 14% may be too high and scientists urged caution in the exploitation of the stock because it was declining.  They advised that exploitation rates should not be raised, but kept below recent levels.  Given that the stock was declining this would require a reduction in the TAC but NAFO decided to keep the TAC at 30kt.  Again the scientific advice was ignored.  Again Denmark in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland set their own quota in excess of their allocation.

Scientific advice for 2011 was that TAC options at 14% exploitation rate or higher would be associated with a relatively high risk of continued stock decline.  A 14% exploitation rate corresponded to a TAC of  17kt.  NAFO set the TAC for 2011 at 19.2kt.  Again the scientific advice was ignored.

The biomass of shrimp halved between 2007 and 2009.  This decline is expected to continue unless NAFO reduces the TAC in accordance with the scientific advice.  It doesn’t look like this is going to happen before it is too late…again.

How can this fishery be considered sustainable?  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Opting out of MSC mackerel recertification because of cost and threats

A group of mackerel handline fishermen from Mevagissey Cornwall (South West Hand Line Fishermen's Association) have decided to opt out of MSC recertification according to a news item from  

The primary reason given is the “staggering” cost of £12,000 plus VAT that must be paid to the consulting company Moody Marine Ltd for recertification.  Fishermen also cited MSC’s threat to withdraw accreditation of all north east Atlantic mackerel fisheries in early 2012 unless Iceland and Faroes stop overfishing the mackerel stock.

If MSC follows up with this threat, it seems highly unlikely that the Mevagissey handline fishermen would be refunded their recertification fee by Moody.

Fishermen are considering alternative cheaper ways of promoting their catch as sustainable, such as the grass routes “Responsible Fishing Scheme”.

The large fees charged by consulting companies like Moody for secret pre-assessments (up to $35K?), full assessments (up to $150K?), annual audits and recertifications (up to $20K?) reflect the value placed on the MSC brand by large players in the fishing industry.

It is not clear that smaller low tech fisheries such as the mackerel handline fishery can continue to afford the high prices charged for MSC certification, even though these smaller fisheries are often the most sustainable with least bycatch and impact on the ecosystem.

Alternative grassroots schemes like the Responsible Fishing Scheme or schemes provided by concerned environmental groups such as Seafood Watch and SeaChoice may prove to be increasingly attractive.    

Thursday, April 14, 2011

MSC and the mackerel certification dilemma

The Marine Stewardship Council is facing a bit of a dilemma over its sustainability certification of NE Atlantic mackerel fisheries. 

MSC announced April 13 2011 that the independent adjudicator (retained under salary by MSC to hear objections) had decided to uphold an objection to the certification of the Faroese Pelagic Organisation North East Atlantic mackerel fishery to the MSC standard. 

The objection was lodged by Marine Scotland (government agency) against the assessment completed by the consulting company Det Norske Veritas.  The objection was that the Faroese fishery was not abiding by the management framework rules that were in place.

From 2000-2009 the Faroese were part of an international trilateral mackerel agreement with the EU and Norway which respected the scientific advice on sustainable catch levels provided by the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES). 

Recent changes in the distribution of mackerel in the NE Atlantic has made the stock more available and hence more attractive to Faroese and Icelandic fisheries and these two countries have unilaterally increased their catch levels outside ICES advice and the management framework. 

Unless the EU or Norway reduces their own catch, which they are unlikely to do, the total catch in 2011 will exceed ICES recommended sustainable levels and will put the resource at risk.   

Iceland does not seem to care because it is not certified by MSC nor is it applying for certification.  But what of the other mackerel fisheries?  There are 8 separate fisheries already certified by MSC and a 9th in the assessment process. reported on 13 April that MSC has stated that the decision should have no effect on already MSC certified mackerel fisheries which all fall within Norwegian or EU jurisdiction.

This contradicts an earlier MSC news release of July 16 2010 that “Unless the situation is resolved by the end of 2011, the unilateral quotas and increases in fishing activity will result in suspension of MSC certification of fisheries committed to harvesting the stock sustainably.”

So which is it?  Will all the mackerel fisheries be punished by MSC because two fisheries are being bad?

On the face of it, they should.  ICES considers the NE Atlantic Mackerel fishery to be one stock, albeit composed of three spawning components.  ICES estimates that fishing mortality has exceeded Fmsy (the fishing mortality that gives maximum sustainable yield) since the early 1990s, so technically NE Atlantic Mackerel already has overfishing taking place.  However, the biomass is relatively healthy, above MSY Btrigger, a biomass reference point that triggers a cautious response when stocks fall too far below Bmsy (the biomass associated with maximum sustainable yield). 

ICES estimates that catch in 2010 was 930kt and that this would have to be lowered to below 672kt in 2011 to be consistent with management objectives under the MSY approach.  This is unlikely to happen with Faroese and Icelandic fisheries not abiding by the rules. 

So now the dilemma: can the existing certified fisheries, who are abiding by the rules, still be considered sustainable if two non-certified fisheries are breaking the rules such that the sum of all the fisheries on NE Atlantic mackerel results in overfishing and stock depletion?

MSC is waffling on this issue. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Turtles and sustainable swordfish

The Marine Stewardship Council deadline for stakeholder comments on the draft sustainability assessment report for the Canadian swordfish longline fishery is just days away. 

Although there are inadequacies in the scientific assessment of the swordfish stock and the management of the fishery by both ICCAT and Canada, swordfish are considered to be at or above the biomass that gives maximum sustainable yield and fishing mortality is below the level that achieves maximum sustainable yield.  In US fishery parlance, the stock is not overfished and neither is overfishing taking place.  On the face of it the primary requirements for consideration as a sustainable fishery under international best practices are met.

The big issue is bycatch of other species such as turtles and sharks. 

Concern is greatest for the loggerhead sea turtle.  Estimated bycatch in the Canadian pelagic longline fishery is about 1,200 turtles annually out of a population of 17,000.  This species was determined by COSEWIC to be endangered in Canada in April 2010 because it is “declining globally and there are well documented, ongoing declines in the Northwest Atlantic population from which juveniles routinely enter and forage in Atlantic Canadian waters. The Canadian population is threatened directly by commercial fishing, particularly bycatch in the pelagic longline fleet, and by loss and degradation of nesting beaches in the southeastern USA and the Caribbean.”

A decision by the Canadian Government on whether or not to list loggerheads under the Species at Risk Act has yet to be made.  In its initial response on December 2010, Government stated that “A voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Sea Turtle Handling and Mitigative Measures has been developed by the Canadian swordfish and tuna pelagic longline fleet.  This Code of Conduct includes measures such as avoiding areas of high sea turtle capture rates, gear hauling protocols to minimise harm to turtles, sea turtle handling guidelines, and usage instructions for de-hooking gear.

A Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans recovery potential assessment published in 2010 found that “Reduction or elimination of mortality in Canadian waters alone is highly unlikely to be sufficient to achieve recovery.” 

Although not the sole culprit, and despite efforts being made in Canada to reduce bycatch and increase survival of released loggerheads, the Canadian longline swordfish fishery is contributing significantly to the potential extinction of loggerheads.

The Canadian harpoon fishery for swordfish has zero bycatch mortality and provides a certified sustainable alternative source for consumers to consider.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Marine Stewardship Council - Acceptable time frames for rebuilding depleted fish stocks

In the fall of 2010 MSC consulted with partners and stakeholders on acceptable rebuilding timeframes for certification of depleted stocks.  MSC defines a depleted stock as one which has a biomass below BMSY (the biomass that gives maximum sustainable yield) or equivalent target level, but is still above a precautionary limit level. Fisheries on stocks which are depleted can become MSC certified, however certification of such fisheries requires that there be a rebuilding plan in place which leads to the recovery of the stock within a specified timeframe.

The MSC Fisheries Assessment Methodology addresses rebuilding under Performance Indicator PI 1.1.3.  Currently, a conditional pass score of SG60 merely requires “reasonable expectation of success” with regard to rebuilding to the target biomass of BMSY within a specified timeframe.  

An unconditional pass of SG80 requires evidence that rebuilding strategies “are rebuilding stocks, or it is highly likely based on simulation modelling or previous performance that they will be able to rebuild the stock within a specified timeframe”.

A perfect score of SG100 requires that “strategies are demonstrated to be rebuilding stocks continuously and there is strong evidence that rebuilding will be complete within the shortest practicable timeframe”.

It is good that MSC is considering revising its methodology with regard to depleted stocks; however the consultation document only addresses a clearer definition of the timeframes for rebuilding to be associated with each of the three scores.

MSC certification of fisheries on depleted stocks as “sustainable” is highly controversial.  See for example the ongoing saga of the conditional certification of the fishery on the collapsed offshore South African hake stock. 

It can be argued that the current SG100 requirement should be the minimum required in order for a fishery to be considered for a conditional pass score (SG60) and that an unconditional pass score (SG80 or 100) should only be given to a fishery on stock that has already rebuilt and is fluctuating around BMSY or above under a fishing mortality of FMSY or lower (the fishing mortality rate consistent with maintaining the stock at BMSY or above).

A fishery on a depleted stock should never be considered sustainable.   

Monday, February 21, 2011

MSC Surveillance audit – South African hake trawl fishery

It is one year into the recertification of the South African hake trawl fishery.  Moody Marine Ltd has sent a team to South Africa to undertake the first surveillance audit of the fishery as required under the MSC eco-certification procedure.

The recertification the South African hake trawl fishery was not plain sailing for Moody.  The unit of certification includes an inshore and an offshore fishery component on different species.  The offshore hake, Merluccius paradoxus, is the main contributor to the fishery.  It is in a collapsed state and did not improve during the previous certification period.

One of the independent reviewers of the Moody recertification strongly argued against calling a fishery “sustainable” when one of the components remains in a severely depleted state.  This was overruled by Moody in their assessment, but did lead to “Condition 1” in the certification – a requirement that a recovery trend be demonstrated in M. paradoxus within the certification period.

So is there evidence that M. paradoxus is recovering?  It is hard to tell.  The last public-domain stock assessment document is a 2008 paper by Rademeyer and colleagues at the MARAM consulting company based in the Mathematics Department of the University of Cape Town.  This assessment showed the spawning biomass trajectory up to 1999 and there is no evidence of rebuilding. 

The Moody 2010 certification report provides the public with a rare look at the assessment process and the state of the stock. According to the report “models developed and implemented by MCM and its contractors are subjected to various reviews and debates through MCM’s Demersal Working Group. Industry, through their consultants, participate in the debates of the Working Group and have been influential in guiding the research.”

MCM is the South African federal government department of Marine and Coastal Management.  MCM is a bit of a black hole.  Nothing in the way of useful information is released to the public.  The “contractor” to MCM is MARAM.  MARAM developed the assessment model and also carry out the assessments using the model, apparently because of a lack of quantitative expertise at MCM.  MARAM is also responsible for the development of the Operational Management Procedure which is used by MCM to manage the stock.  MARAM does not produce public documents related to its contracts with MCM.

The assessment in the Moody certification report extends the spawner biomass series to 2007.  Spawning Stock Biomass continues to decline, reaching the lowest estimated level ever.  Projections under the MARAM management procedure predict that recovery will take place following 2007, however such projected recoveries are notoriously optimistic and routinely get postponed in subsequent assessments.  There needs to be actual realized evidence of recovery to satisfy Condition 1, not merely a projection.

One assumes that the Moody team for the current hake surveillance audit will have MARAM and MCM documents at their disposal in order to evaluate whether or not Condition 1 is being met.  

There should be full public disclosure by Moody of all relevant MCM and MARAM documents on M. paradoxus used in the audit, otherwise the public are being kept in the dark and have a right to be suspicious.

A comment on the NE Atlantic mackerel objection

From the comment section - the following anonymous comment on the NE Atlantic mackerel certification raises some interesting issues and is repeated here.

Two things strike me regarding this. 

Firstly, MSC has always said that it is not directly involved in decisions regarding who gets certified and who does not. It argues that it merely sets the standard for the assessment criteria and then it is up to an independent consulting company to determine if a fishery meets the standard. The proclamation on the MSC website regarding removal of certification by 2012 unless the whole NE Atlantic mackerel fishery meets the standard sounds like direct interference in the process to me.

Secondly, the concept that not only the enterprises seeking certification need to be abiding by the criteria, but also those outside the certification, will pose problems for other fisheries currently seeking certification, such as the offshore northern shrimp fishery of Newfoundland/Labrador. In this fishery Faroe Islands have unilaterally increased their own shrimp quota outside the overall quota set by the responsible RFMO, NAFO.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

NE Atlantic mackerel – MSC policies and international governance

The NE Atlantic mackerel fishery is presenting some interesting insights into the evolving policies of the Marine Stewardship Council and its relationship with existing governance structures.

It can be argued that Marine Stewardship Council  eco-certification program only has added value in situations where national and international fisheries governance structures are not doing their job of conserving fisheries and ecosystems through sustainable management in the interests of long-term public good.

Given the poor practices of many governments in both developed and developing nations, and regional fisheries management organizations, there has been much for MSC to get their teeth into over the last 10 years.  Some of the cases they have taken on have been controversial – best known of all being the recent Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish fishery certification.  This fishery is in international waters and is being pursued by a number of fleets from around the world.  A subset of these fleets applied for certification and achieved it despite strong objections from conservation groups (but not the responsible RFMO, CCAMLR).  Other fleets outside of the certification engaged in the same fishery have reputations as pirates and rogues responsible for serial collapses of the conspecific Patagonian Toothfish fisheries in various parts of the world.  This did not seem to matter to MSC then.

But it matters now.  MSC has announced that unilateral quotas and increases in fishing activity by Faroese and Icelandic fisheries on NE Atlantic mackerel will result in suspension of MSC-certification for those seven fisheries already certified.  Ongoing certification and any new certifications of fisheries on this stock will require establishment of a mechanism for monitoring and managing the combined catch of all the nations before the end of 2011. If not, all seven certificates will be suspended in January 2012.

The mackerel bubble was burst, not by an environmental organization but by the tweed jackets at Marine Scotland, part of the core Scottish Government set up in 2009 to manage Scotland's waters.  They recently ponied up the £5,000 required to object to the assessment by the for-profit consulting company Det Norske Veritas that the Faroese mackerel fishery smelt like roses.

So two three things of note (1) MSC threatens removal of certification unless the whole fishery including those not in the program are behaving; (2) A government challenges the outcome of the MSC process; and (3) An objection is actually sustained by the MSC appointed Independent Adjudicator.

Too bad about the Ross Sea Antarctic Toothfish though.