Victory for consumers in WWF's battle to defend MSC ecolabel
The MSC, beset for a number of years by poor certifier performance and the misapplication of its sustainability standard will benefit from the decision, which brings a new clarity to the standard. But the real victors are the consumers who rely on the eco-label to assure them that their purchases are from genuinely sustainable fisheries.
“As a founder and public supporter of the MSC, WWF could not permit the credibility of the eco-label to be undermined by such a systematic misapplication of the certification requirements. Any process that results in a fishery that cannot control exploitation of its stocks being certified as sustainable simply can’t be supported by WWF and we needed to take action,” said Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager.
Almost four years of global effort to rein in certifiers who were failing to correctly apply MSC requirements was concluded when WWF was forced to lodge a formal Notice of Objection to the decision reached by certifier Acoura Marine, with the objective of preventing the certification of the Echebastar purse seine tuna fishery to the MSC standard.
WWF’s main concern centred on the absence of any effective management controls or tools to limit or otherwise manage the exploitation of tuna. These are a key requirement of the MSC standard for sustainable fishing and must occur across all tuna species under the RFMO management. Although the MSC policy and standard are clear and unequivocal on this point, there has been repeated and contagious misapplication in many tuna assessments, as demonstrated in this case by Acoura Marine.
Dr Dimmlich commented: “The situation in the Indian Ocean is absolutely clear with regards to control of tuna stocks; fisheries managers are currently unable to limit or in any way influence the exploitation of overfished stocks and, although work is underway to address this, there is still some way to go before the necessary management tools will be available to them. The attempt by Acoura to claim otherwise was astonishing to many who work in this region and inevitably couldn't withstand scrutiny. WWF will now work closely with tuna fisheries seeking MSC certification to ensure that management in the Indian Ocean is improved to meet MSC requirements.”
The Independent Adjudicator agreed, upholding WWF’s objection and calling for the spurious certification recommendation be withdrawn. He declared that Acoura Marine had failed to establish that the required management tools were either in place or even otherwise available to managers, concluding that this flaw was “fundamental, irremediable and fatal” and that certification of the fishery was therefore not warranted. Importantly, he also noted that previous incorrect application of the MSC requirements for other tuna fisheries could not be accepted as a precedent to perpetuate error, commenting that “the notion that, because a CAB may have proceeded in error in the past, the error must be carried forward into the future would scarcely be a very uplifting mantra for the MSC.”
WWF welcomes the corrective decision made in overturning the recommendation for MSC certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean tuna fishery, but questions a system that required years of costly effort and intervention to reach such a straightforward and obvious conclusion.
Daniel Suddaby, Deputy Leader WWF Smart Fishing Initiative concluded, “The MSC standards themselves are clear on the requirement that fishery managers are able to control exploitation of their stocks, so the outcome of this objection should not be a surprise to anybody. What is surprising is that MSC’s processes failed to ensure that their standards were applied correctly It is in the interest of the credibility of their label that the MSC now take the lead and ensure that all MSC tuna assessments are thoroughly reviewed. To prevent contagion from future misapplication, MSC must ensure certifiers correctly apply the standard in line with this decision. The objection process, expensive for fishing industry and NGOs, should not be relied on for rectification of systematic misapplication of the MSC standard.”