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.

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