But with the pirates gone, who will defend Indian Ocean tuna stocks?In its Vision and Mission statement the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) promises to never compromise on the environmental standards they set, nor on their independence. But questions are increasingly being asked within the tuna industry, following a spate of controversial certifications, which casts doubt on these admirable goals.
WWF, a strong supporter of the MSC, is deeply concerned by any actions which may potentially undermine the credibility of the ecolabel. Certification should provide consumers and retailers with complete assurance of the sustainability of the products they buy. On 31 July, in a special hearing held at MSC headquarters, WWF will be fighting for the credibility of MSC and strongly against the proposed certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean purse seine skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fishery.
It is well-understood by all who work on Indian Ocean tuna, and acknowledged by the certifier FCI Ltd (Acoura), that the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the Regional Fishery Management Organisation (RFMO) with the responsibility of managing the region's tuna and tuna-like species, lacks any formal controls or tools to limit the exploitation of the stocks. The fundamental ability of managers to control the resource is, unsurprisingly, a key requirement for MSC Certification of a sustainable fishery.
“WWF has been engaged actively in many MSC assessments, which is a time consuming and costly exercise. We see this objection as a real test case and perhaps even a turning point. If fisheries with no effective management can be certified then we must seriously re-evaluate our position and our future engagement with the MSC system” notes Daniel Suddaby, Deputy Leader of WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the certifier has failed to correctly apply the MSC certification requirements and concluded that the IOTC is indeed able to exert some control over the fishing on its stocks, desperately clinging to the sole fact that currently stocks are not considered to be overfished.
But critically, the IOTC’s Scientific Committee has clearly and repeatedly stated over the last few years that any decreases and shifts in fishing effort are most likely due to piracy in the western Indian Ocean which is preventing vessels from harvesting fish there. In fact the latest scientific reports of the Scientific Committee and its working parties throughout 2014 clearly and publicly documented that as a result of the reduction in piracy in the western Indian Ocean in the last one to two years, effort has returned to match and/or exceed previous levels. Catches of yellowfin tuna are now far above recommended levels and continue to increase, unconstrained by any catch limits.
For this high profile assessment, giving full consideration to the significance of its outcome for the conservation and sustainable management of tuna in the Indian Ocean, and the role of the MSC in its mission to protect the seas, one would expect the certifier to adopt the precautionary approach recognised in international law and be cautious about certifying this fishery. The arbitrary recommendation to certify in this case has shocked many.
“We find it difficult to believe that an accredited certifier would take the audacious step of recommending for certification a fishery which was only rescued from overfishing by the actions of pirates. Now that international efforts have reduced piracy levels, and the IOTC are still discussing potential controls, the outlook for some tuna stocks is looking extremely uncertain”, warns Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF Indian Ocean Tuna Program Manager.
It goes almost without saying that no reasonable certifier would or could rely upon piracy as a measure or factor in the control of fishing effort to justify certifying a fishery as ‘sustainable’.
By Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF Indian Ocean Tuna Manager.
For more updates on WWF’s objection and the adjudication process follow @wetjens on twitter: https://twitter.com/wetjens