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.


  1. 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.

  2. The quota was small and it was more profitable to catch it in The Norwegian zone.