Fishery consultant claims MSC reputation damaged in Australia after roughy certification failure

Published on
May 14, 2021

An Australian fishery consultancy, which has taken a financial hit from the fallout of the failed Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of the orange roughy fishery, claims the MSC’s reputation may be damaged in the country by the certification's failure.

“Just as MSC was about to take a step forward in Australia it takes several backwards and will become less relevant,” Simon Boag, a fisheries advisor at Australian-based Atlantis Fisheries Consulting Group – which was engaged by a number of orange roughy east quota owners to seek MSC accreditation – said.

Boag told SeafoodSource that the subsequent rejection by an independent adjudicator of the application, after objection by WWF and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), has damaged the MSC’s credibility. He said the WWF, which co-founded MSC, has “weaponized its own creation” by objecting to MSC certification of roughy “given the optics of this fishery passing with such high scores.”

The WWF has also been critical of a lack of public comment from MSC after WWF objected to the certification of the orange roughy.

“This fishery should never have been put forward for certification under the MSC,” Krista Singleton Cambage, head of climate and food security at WWF Australia, said in a statement. She also pointed to the “historical plundering of roughy in the 1990s which drove it to extremely low levels.”

However, Boag pointed out that neither the AMCS nor WWF engaged in the public comment process or site visits before the fishery was recommended for certification on a score of 289 out of 300.

“In order to object a stakeholder must comment on the announcement report or attend a site visit,” he said. “However neither appellant engaged in any way during the long, staged, and public process.”

Despite that, the arbitrator heard the environmental groups’ objections.

“For reasons we do not understand the arbitrator decided to hear these two late objections,” Boag said. 

Boag said that an MSC pre-assessment completed by a third party conformity assessment body (CAB) noted that there was no issue with the fact the species was listed on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, an Australia law from 1999, Boag said.

“A second CAB raised the issue of EPBC listing with MSC and were told that it was a ‘matter of judgement’ for themselves,” he said.

Furthermore, Boag said, the fishery minister wrote to the MSC to explain the orange roughy species is managed under the Fisheries Act, and that the listing meant a sustainable take could be harvested. However, the arbitrator found that the species is regarded as threatened under Australian law and thus can’t be assessed as a target species.

The arbitrator ruled that in her judgement, the standard cannot have been intended for threatened species to become certified, Boag said.

“But it [standard] doesn’t say that,” he said. “Also [the adjudicator stated] that ETPs should have zero catch –though the adjudicator noted Australian government regulations allow for a 1,300 [metric] ton annual catch of the species.”  

The MSC’s senior director in the Asia Pacific, however, believes the episode demonstrates the robust nature of the MSC process.  

“The independence and rigour of third party assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard underpins the credibility of the MSC program,” MSC Regional Director for the Asia Pacific Region Patrick Caleo told SeafoodSource. “The objections process and stakeholder input are important parts of that system."

Caleo added that the independent adjudication is part of what makes MSC's standard so robust.

“It is the role of an independent adjudicator - a legal expert appointed by the MSC- to resolve disputed assessment decisions through the objection process," Caleo said. "The MSC, as the standard setter, must remain independent of the decision-making process.”

While the Australian Orange Roughy has not become MSC certified at this time, “due to its conservation dependent status under Australian legislation, the assessment underlines how far the fishery has come since stocks were overfished in the 80s and 90s,” added Caleo.

However, other certification schemes stand ready to step in and see contradictions in the failed attempt at MSC certification.

“The Australian Eastern Zone Orange Roughy fishery would be potentially certifiable according to Friend of the Sea requirements, since the stock is not overexploited and measures are in place to reduce the bottom trawling impact to a sustainabile level,” Friend of the Sea Founder and CEO Paolo Bray told SeafoodSource. “While listed as Conservation Dependent according to the EPBC, Orange Roughy is not Vulnerable or worse and the current management system has helped the stock in the area to recover. It is hard to understand why this fishery cannot be certified, while the Mexican fleet killing dolphins to catch tuna in the ETP has instead obtained the MSC certification.”

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500