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.

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