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 

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