New flawed MSC certification of bluefin tuna risks reaching the Mediterranean market, warns WWF

Posted on 28 October 2020

Today, WWF sent a public letter to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) raising concerns over the potential certification of the French SATHOAN bluefin tuna fishery operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
Rome, Italy - Today, WWF sent a public letter to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) raising concerns over the certification of the French SATHOAN bluefin tuna fishery operating in the Mediterranean Sea. This is the second bluefin tuna fishery to be awarded with what WWF believes is a premature certification. The first and highly contested certification of a Japanese fishery not only exposed important gaps in the management of the bluefin tuna stock, it showed worrying flaws in the MSC certification and objection processes. 

WWF continues to oppose all certifications of bluefin tuna fisheries until the recovery of the bluefin population is uncontested and demonstrated by reliable stock assessments. However, this time WWF has chosen not to engage in a formal objection process as the MSC objections procedure has proven ineffective at preventing premature or inappropriate certification of fisheries and does not allow for a scientific and objective decision on the sustainability of the fishery. 

Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative,  said: 

“Bluefin tuna recovery requires time, good science and conservation measures, but the MSC seems to be pressured to certify fisheries with serious sustainability shortcomings. WWF has highlighted the shortfall of the MSC standard in assessing the status of the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna stock. Yet, the certification was granted to the first Japanese bluefin tuna fishery under the assumption it may meet the criteria for the sustainability of bluefin tuna only by 2025. This time, we will not formally object to the certification of a French fishery, as we don't have confidence in the MSC conducting a transparent, independent and unbiased fishery assessment process based on a rigorous evaluation of the bluefin tuna stock.” 

The certification process of the French SATHOAN Mediterranean Bluefin tuna artisanal longline and handline fishery started in 2018 and was led by Control Union UK Ltd, the same certification body that conducted the assessment of the Japanese bluefin tuna fishery, over which WWF raised serious concerns regarding  transparency and impartiality. WWF highlighted the following problems about the SATHOAN fishery: 
  • The SATHOAN assessment recently presented by the conformity assessment body (CAB) Control Union UK Ltd does not take into account the latest scientific assessment of the status of bluefin tuna stock released in August 2020, further confirming the increasing level of uncertainty around the bluefin stock status. This means that there is currently no scientific evidence of a full recovery of the bluefin tuna stock in the near future.
The evaluation of the bluefin tuna stock provided by Control Union UK Ltd was over optimistic and not fully science-based, assuming the stock can rebuild much faster than what is stated in most scientific analyses. This allows for the false assumption that the bluefin tuna stocks in question can be fished sustainably [1].  WWF is requesting the MSC to transparently and completely clarify and fix the methodology used to assess the bluefin tuna stock before any additional bluefin tuna fisheries are put forward for certification. 

The action plan presented by the SATHOAN bluefin tuna fishery is overly ambitious, especially in regards to its realistic capacity to improve the management of the overall bluefin tuna population to achieve sustainability [2] and to adopt  measures to avoid the bycatch of species such as turtles, seabirds and sharks (as required by Sustainability Principle 2 of the MSC certification). While WWF appreciates the openness of SATHOAN to address these issues and will work with the fishery on bycatch mitigation, the fishery does not currently meet the sustainability standards required for its certification. 

As it stands, the MSC Objections Process is not fit for purpose and has repeatedly proved ineffective at preventing premature or inappropriate certification of fisheries, as in the case of the Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries. WWF is committed to pursuing immediate and significant reform of the MSC Disputes Process that would support credible certifications.

“Until MSC standards are improved, WWF will continue opposing all MSC certification of bluefin tuna no matter the size or type of the fishery and recommend that consumers do not buy MSC-certified bluefin tuna.” concluded di Carlo.


[1] The critical issue regarding the calculation of the “generation time” - a scientific measure of the time required for a stock to fully rebuild - was first raised by WWF in our objection to the certification of the Japanese Usufuku Honten fishery, and the importance of resolving this issue was highlighted in the final decision of the Independent Adjudicator.

[2] As explained in its public letter, WWF believes that Client Action Plan for Principle 1 (Sustainability) is unlikely to be met during the certification period due to the minimal leverage that fishery client groups have in the Regional Fisheries Management Organisation making process. RFMOs are international organisations formed by countries with fishing interests and have management powers to set catch and fishing effort limits, technical measures, and control obligations, that are binding on their members.

For Further Information:
Stefania Campogianni, Communications Manager, WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative,, +39 346 387 3237
Atlantic bluefin tuna shoal, Malta
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