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.

A comment on the NE Atlantic mackerel objection

From the comment section - the following anonymous comment on the NE Atlantic mackerel certification raises some interesting issues and is repeated here.

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.

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.