Thursday, November 17, 2011

MSC Sustainable Fisheries Certification Works says new report

In October 2010 MSC announced that it had selected, from the various contract bidders, MRAG Ltd to undertake the first detailed analysis of the environmental impacts that have resulted from the first ten years of MSC’s fishery certification program.  MRAG was supported in this contract by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd and Meridian Prime Ltd. 

These consulting companies have recently submitted their joint report.  You get what you pay for so no surprise that the report concluded that MSC eco-certification really works. 

The media release states that this is an “independent” study.  Not so.  MRAG Ltd. is a consulting company heavily engaged in the MSC certification game.  Further, one of the report authors, David Agnew, is a long time MSC insider as Chair of the Technical Advisory Board and is now on staff as MSC Director of Standards.

The study focuses on improvements in eight outcome performance indicators: stock status; population reference points; stock recovery; retained species; bycatch species; endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species; habitats and environments.

Improvements were purported to have been evidenced over the period commencing with the secret MSC pre-assessment, through assessment and into the certification.

The conclusion from the study was that MSC works.

Erik Stokstad, writing in Science is not convinced. Scoring is subjective and there is no control study (i.e. how did fisheries not under MSC certification progress over the same period?).

While MSC continues to certify fisheries that are data-deficient, clearly not sustainable or which cause unacceptable collateral damage on other components of the ecosystem we, the resource owners, should reserve judgement regarding the efficacy of the program. 

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 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should MSC revoke Newfoundland Grand Bank shrimp certification?

Can a fishery be considered sustainably managed when the scientific advice is consistently rejected by the management authority in favour of larger TACs?

Clearly the Marine Stewardship Council and Moody Marine think so because the fishery in NAFO area 3L is still certified.

Since 2009 NAFO fisheries managers have set TACs higher than those recommended by NAFO scientists.  In addition, Denmark in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, unhappy with their share of the TAC, set their own additional quota in several years, a unilateral action allowed under NAFO rules.

The latest incident is the 2011 decision for the 2012 TACScientific advice from NAFO was that the TAC for 2012 should be less than 9,350 t to reduce the risk of continuing decline.  NAFO fisheries Managers instead set the TAC at 12,000 t which will incur a relatively high risk of continuing decline.

This resource peaked in biomass in 2007 and has been in steady decline ever since based on both Canadian and EU survey data.  The decline is expected to continue under  the 2012 TAC set by NAFO.  Is this a sustainably managed fishery?