Fraser River sockeye eligible for MSC eco-label


Steven Hedlund

Published on
July 11, 2010

An independent adjudicator on Monday upheld a determination recommending that the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery be certified as sustainable and well managed, according to the Marine Stewardship Council.

In February, three environmental groups filed an objection against Tavel Certification’s determination (the third-party certifier is now part of Moody Marine Ltd.). The David Suzuki Foundation, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Watershed Watch Salmon Society claimed that the fishery does not meet the MSC’s criteria because Fraser River sockeye populations are threatened by overfishing. On Monday, the organizations blasted the independent adjudicator’s ruling.

“By any definition, this is not a sustainable fishery,” said SkeenaWild Executive Director Greg Knox. “There is no way these kinds of endangered salmon should be considered a sustainable choice until the fisheries management system is improved and stocks given a chance to recover.”

Jeffery Young, a David Suzuki Foundation biologist, added that Fraser River fishermen still catch “endangered” sockeye, because they have no way of knowing exactly where the fish originated; sockeye populations in Cultus and Sakinaw lakes have been listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) since 2003, according to the organizations.

“This certification could actually result in well-intentioned consumers buying an endangered Fraser River sockeye with an eco-label on it,” said Young.

But the independent adjudicator, Canadian attorney Wylie Spicer, disagreed, clearing the way for Fraser River sockeye to be eligible to carry the MSC eco-label.

On 2 July, three units of the British Columbia sockeye fishery — Barkley Sound, the Nass and the Skeena — earned MSC certification. The fourth unit, the Fraser River, was put on hold pending the independent adjudicator’s ruling. The fishery set out to gain MSC certification in 2001.

The Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society (CPSFS) applauded the ruling. “This is tough stuff,” said Christina Burridge of the CPSFS. “Even opponents of certification have said the conditions are excellent. MSC certification’s market incentives really do improve fisheries management.”

“Sockeye returns with their four-year life cycle are always unpredictable. Sometimes low harvest rates and even closure of the fishery to put fish on the spawning grounds are necessary to protect future returns,” said B.C. salmon troller Mike Griswold., adding that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Pacific Salmon Commission have adopted management practices to directly respond to adverse environmental conditions. “Anyone can manage a fishery when there are lots of fish, or when there are no fish. But when times are uncertain, that’s when you need clear harvest rules and full management accountability. MSC certification helps delivers that accountability.”

Currently, 12 Canadian fisheries have obtained MSC certification and 17 others are under assessment.

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