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. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. It would be a shame to see legitimate sustainable fishing companies to lose their titles because other companies are abusing the system. Fisheries need to remember to be smart and respectful about their practices and everyone will benefit.