Clearwater changes lobster fishing practices, asks for early MSC audit

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-based Clearwater Seafoods has changed its controversial lobster fishing practices, which resulted in a fine from the Canadian government and a downgrade in the Ocean Wise recommendation for its lobster fishery.

Clearwater, via CS ManPar, was convicted of repeatedly storing 3,800 lobster traps on the ocean floor more than the limit of 72 hours. The offenses took place in Lobster Fishing Area 41, which is a unique territory exclusively licensed to Clearwater. Area 41 runs 80 kilometers from the shore out to the 200-mile limit from Georges Bank to the Laurentian Channel.  Clearwater paid a CAD 30,000 (USD 22,770, EUR 20,075) fine in relation to its guilty plea.

On 15 February, the CBC reported the fishery was downgraded in the recommendations made by Ocean Wise for sustainable fisheries. 

“In line with our policy to recommend Canadian MSC-certified fisheries, except where objections have been filed by stakeholders, this fishery is no longer recommended by Ocean Wise,” the nonprofit said in announcing its decision, according to the CBC.

Clearwater Vice President of Sustainability Christine Penney told the CBC the company has stopped storing lobster traps at sea.

"We've been engaged with discussions with DFO on an ongoing basis and we have reacted to concerns that they've raised around what had been a long-standing practice of storing gear at sea. And we've said we've since eliminated that practice," Penney said.

Penney the company had begun storing the traps in the fishery as the result of "unforeseen issues.”

Clearwater owns exclusive rights to Lobster Fishing Area 41, and is permitted to fish it year-round. Its annual license for the area permits it up to 720 tons of lobster, representing about 15 percent of Clearwater’s annual lobster sales.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the CBC the company’s practices posed “a serious conservation risk” because even unbaited traps stored on the ocean floor can continue to unintentionally catch lobster and other species, in effect becoming a type of ghost fishery.

Last week, Clearwater called for the Marine Stewardship Council to advance its full review of the fishery, which was originally scheduled for June. In response to the company’s request, conformity assessment body Lloyd’s Register announced it will conduct its site visit on 8 April, 2019.     

“In the interest of transparency, and to acknowledge stakeholder concerns, Clearwater welcomes the full review of the offshore lobster fishery,” the company said in a press release. “All stakeholders have an opportunity to participate in the audit process.

Penney noted the fishery has been providing providing detailed information for expert review and consideration during the annual MSC review process for the past 10 years.

"The Canadian offshore lobster fishery was the first on the Eastern seaboard to be certified under the MSC standard and continues to be a model for sustainable fisheries management," Penneys aid. "We operate in a responsible and sustainable manner, and anticipate the MSC audit process will reaffirm that the fishery continues to meet the very rigorous MSC standard."


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