Friday, December 20, 2013

MSC – Controlling the medium controlling the message?

Although technically a non-profit, the Marine Stewardship Council is a for-profit organization – the profit being used to expand the scope and influence of the Council. 

A new area of expansion is the creation of an online fisheries science research library.

The “library” is essentially a new eJournal called “MSC Science Series”.  It will be published biannually and the first volume is now online.

The MSC Science Series provides a medium for publishing the results of MSC funded research related to the MSC standard for sustainable fisheries and marine ecosystems.  The review and editorial panels comprise mainly MSC staffers and insiders.

Fisheries and marine ecosystem sciences are already well served by a number of online scientific journals, both those with a long-standing tradition in paper form and a number of recently added eJournals. 

These journals pride themselves on having independent and objective peer review processes.  It is questionable whether there is a real need for a new eJournal, particularly one in which the review and editorial process is tightly controlled by the hosting organization.

Informed criticism of the MSC process has come mainly from fisheries scientists and ecologists who have questioned the data, methods and results of some MSC sustainability determinations.  A number of these have been published in independent peer reviewed journals.  In contrast, there have been few papers in support of the MSC approach written by scientists who are completely independent of the MSC process.

Rather than working on establishing the scientific legitimacy of its data, methods and results through the existing independent peer reviewed literature, the MSC is hoping to further its cause by creating a quasi-scientific medium in which the message will be closely controlled and favourable to the MSC. 

In some ways this is similar to another MSC institution, the quasi-legal Objections Procedure in which “Independent Adjudicators” hired by MSC to adjudicate on objections to MSC sustainability determinations invariably decide in favor of the MSC and against the objectors. 

Ironically, the objectors are typically groups and associations of scientists and environmentalists citing information published in the peer reviewed scientific literature!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Newfoundland Grand Bank shrimp still sustainable?

Is the shrimp fishery on the Grand Bank of Newfoundland being sustainable managed?

MSC thinks so.  It has been MSC Certified Sustainable for a number of years and products are entitled to carry the MSC approved blue sustainable fish logo as an incentive for environmentally aware consumers to buy the product at premium prices.

However, since 2009 NAFO (North Atlantic Fisheries Organization) 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 2013 decision for the 2014 TAC.  Advice from NAFO scientists was that the stock had declined to a very low level termed the “limit reference point” where any further fishing would be in danger of causing serious and irreversible harm, and that there should therefore be no fishing in 2014.

NAFO managers again ignored the scientific advice and set the TAC for 2014 at 4,300 tons with the major portion allocated to Canada.

In contrast, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in the US recently heeded similar scientific advice from US scientists and has shut down the shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine for 2014.

Conclusion – MSC subscribes to the notion that management of a "sustainable" fishery does not have to be science-based to retain certification?