Australia’s largest fishery by volume earns MSC approval

South Australia’s sardine fishery has become the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for sustainable fishing. 

Independent auditing body MRAG Americas, Inc. conducted the assessment of the fishery, which celebrated its MSC approval on 6 December in Port Lincoln, South Australia, with an event for association members and stakeholders. The fishery is the third in South Australia to earn MSC certification, joining the Spencer Gulf king prawn and Lakes and Coorong pipi fisheries.

“The MSC welcomes the joint commitment of the South Australia sardine fishery and government, through the Department of Primary Industry and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), in joining the MSC’s global aspirations in transforming seafood markets to a more sustainable basis,” MSC Oceania Program Director Anne Gabriel said.

“Marine Stewardship Council certification outlines the effort of the individuals and organizations involved with the South Australian Sardine Fishery over the past 25 years. We have focused on building a culture of sustainability, and take pride in achieving world’s best practice; as for the license holders, there is no other option," South Australian Sardine Industry Association Executive Officer Marcus Turner said. “We further attribute our success to a strong working relationship with government and scientists where, through co-management arrangements, we have been able to work collaboratively towards a common goal of continuous improvement within the fishery. MSC certification is a natural extension of this commitment, and we are very excited to continue on this path of growth well into the future."

Australian sardines (Sardinops sagax) are the prime target of the South Australian Sardine Industry Association (SASIA) and its eight purse seine vessels. Fishing occurs mostly at night, with schools of sardines located by sonar. The catch is netted, then pursed and drawn into a smaller area adjacent to the vessel, according to the MSC. The fishery’s vessels are “very selective,” with 99.17 percent of the catch being sardines.

The commercial sardine fishery, which began back in the late 1990s, operates in waters off of the state of South Australia. The fishery runs on an annual basis, with peak fishing season typically transpiring from November to June. Managed by a limited entry licensing system with a total allowable commercial catch (TACC) set for each 12 month period, the fishery clocks annual sardine catches between 27,500 to 42,000 metric tons – as such, it is the largest fishery by volume in Australia. 

“The implementation of an Individual Transferable Quota management regime in 2000 has provided the framework for a sustainable fishery to develop,” said Steve Shanks, who manages the sardine fishery for PIRSA.

“Since 2000 the fishery has expanded from a 5,000-[metric-ton] fishery to a 42,000-[metric-ton] fishery, due largely to the development of stock assessment techniques and harvest strategies in collaboration with industry,” Shanks said. “The ability of industry and government to work together to develop the fishery within a sustainable framework has now led to Marine Stewardship Council certification. PIRSA looks forward to continuing to work with the sardine industry to develop the fishery for the local community and all South Australians.”

Eighteen fisheries representing 24 fish and shellfish species in Australia are currently certified under the MSC Fisheries Standard. Globally, more than 350 fisheries have been certified to date, representing around 12 percent of the worldwide marine wild catch. More than 1,200 improvements to fishing practices and environmental management have been made by MSC-certified fisheries since 2000, according to the MSC.

Image courtesy of the South Australian Sardine Industry Association (SASIA)


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