Yellowfin in peril but MSC blind to ineffective management of Indian Ocean tuna stocks | WWF
Yellowfin in peril but MSC blind to ineffective management of Indian Ocean tuna stocks

Posted on 18 April 2016

Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna was stripped of its MSC certification while skipjack, another tuna species captured in the same fishery, was given a last minute reprieve.
Gland, Switzerland. Indian ocean tuna was stripped of its MSC certification while skipjack,  another tuna species captured in the same fishery, was given a last minute reprieve. In a move which has left the industry baffled and despite a ruling from the MSC’s own Independent Adjudicator (IA), which clearly failed the same management system for both Indian Ocean skipjack tuna and yellowfin tuna, the Maldives may continue to use the MSC ecolabel on their skipjack product, but not on yellowfin products.

The result of the certification audit of both fisheries used the ruling of the IA to justify both the suspension of the yellowfin certificate and the retention of the skipjack certificate, selectively using and ignoring key IA points in order to support each case.

The MSC’s assessment body suspended the Maldives pole and line yellowfin tuna fishery, acknowledging that the Indian Ocean yellowfin stock is overfished and subject to overfishing. However, the assessors failed to acknowledge that the stock is now in this state due to the lack of management measures to control fishing for tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean. A failing the IOTC freely admits in its most recent stock status summary.  

In 2015, the MSC’s Independent Adjudicator ruled that for the IOTC “There is no evidence that harvest control rules are available in the sense the MSC uses this term….” and “There are no such examples in the record of comparable harvest control rules in comparable fisheries under IOTC jurisdiction”.

Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Indian Ocean tuna coordinator: “The state of the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock demonstrates lack of effective management by the IOTC, further cementing the case WWF made to the Independent Adjudicator last year. Last week, 38 tuna purchasing and processing companies from across Europe wrote to the IOTC asking that robust harvest control rules are adopted, and measures are taken to recover the yellowfin tuna stock. MSC certifications claiming effective management is in place at the IOTC undermines the collective effort to shift IOTC management, and erodes MSC use as a tool for fisheries reform.”

Largely as a result of Maldives’ own efforts, the IOTC is due to consider the introduction of harvest control rules at its next meeting, but the confusing outcome of the Maldives audit puts at risk all the Indian Ocean tuna stocks by undermining region-wide efforts for progress at the annual Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting in May. Ironically for the Maldives, as incentive for progress now disappears, they now stand to lose the momentum toward the adoption of harvest control rules they have worked so hard for over the last three years.

To demonstrate that the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries are on the path sustainable management, the IOTC must adopt effective measures in May to rebuild the Indian Ocean yellowfin stock. If the IOTC Commissioners fail this test and remain unresponsive to the diminished state of the yellowfin stock, any claim of sustainability of Indian Ocean tuna stocks is blatantly flawed. It is very likely that the certification reprieve for Maldives skipjack will ultimately be shown to be a short-lived and a reputational disaster for the well-known MSC ecolabel.
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Tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean
© Wetjens Dimmlich/WWF