The story of an objection
Poor fishing control, increasing number of boats and dwindling tuna stocks, this is what makes WWF believe the Echebastar Indian Ocean purse-seine tuna fishery cannot be certified according the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a voluntary, independent certification scheme that rewards sustainable fishing practices and sets environmental and social standards.
Imagine you are speeding home in your brand new car and you come to a red light at a busy intersection, only to find that your car has no gears or even brakes. This is the challenging situation facing Indian Ocean tuna fisheries under assessment for certification to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for sustainable fishing.
Currently there is only one control available to management of the tuna fisheries, and that is the ‘accelerator’. Despite repeated warnings from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s Scientific Committee, which provides advice to fisheries managers, catches of vulnerable yellowfin tuna continue to increase, well in excess of recommended limits.
In well-managed fisheries, and there are plenty of examples of these which are already MSC certified, managers can respond to overfishing by selecting a lower ‘gear’, reducing the amount of fishing effort to different lower levels in order to allow the fish populations to recover. In particularly critical situations they can apply the ‘brakes’, closing all or part of the fishery entirely.
The IOTC is only just beginning to acknowledge the need for these fundamental controls (Harvest Control Rules as part of a defined Harvest Strategy). There is much work yet to be done before any of these are adopted by its members.
As the objection process for the Echebastar purse seine fishery enters the final stage it is clear that the only outcome can be that the Certification Assessment Body (CAB) has made a serious procedural error and the certification will be withheld. Such as Daniel Suddaby, Deputy Leader of WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative notes, “Although the final report acknowledged that the critical fisheries controls are not in place as required by the MSC standards, the CAB still inexplicably recommended certification of the fishery, based on the hope that one day the situation would be improved. This simply is not following the requirements of the MSC standard.”
Of course if hope and promises were the basis for certification of a sustainable fishery, then almost every fishery would soon be proudly, yet misleadingly, flying the MSC logo.
WWF, a founder of the MSC, has long supported this standard as the best available indication to the consumer that such purchased products are sourced from a sustainably managed fishery. To those of us actually working on tuna in the Indian Ocean, any claim made to sustainable management in the Indian Ocean is an obvious and potentially dangerous misrepresentation of facts, and undermines the integrity of the MSC brand. We are looking forward to the results of the MSC Objection process.
As an independent standard setter, the MSC itself is not able to act when the standards are misapplied through procedural and scoring errors by third party certifiers. However, WWF, as a major stakeholder in the process, is willing to take steps to maintain the integrity of the MSC standard through a formal objection to the certification of the Echebastar tuna fishery.
Would you buy a car with no brakes or other controls, on the promise that one day these may be fitted? We think not and hope that, through the MSC objections process, a similar situation is avoided, in the interest of a truly sustainable tuna industry and a credible certification system that provides the necessary assurance of sustainability ot consumers.
By Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF Indian Ocean Tuna Manager. For more updates on this objection follow @wetjens on twitter: https://twitter.com/wetjens