French Atlantic bluefin fishery gets MSC certification, over WWF opposition
A small-scale, artisanal fishery based in southern France has been granted Marine Stewardship Council certification, despite opposition from environmental non-governmental organization WWF.
The SATHOAN fishermen’s cooperative uses pole and line, handline, and longline methods, catching 200 to 300 metric tons (MT) of Eastern Atlantic bluefin annually, mostly sold in France. According to MSC, the Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stock, which spawns in the Mediterranean Sea, was near collapse less than two decades ago due to overfishing, but has been subject to concerted conservation efforts for the past 20 years.
“While fishing never stopped, with allowable catch remaining in the thousands of tons, stringent management has led to a significant recovery in numbers in the past decade,” MSC said in a press release.
Independent assessor Control Union UK took two years to finalize its positive assessment of the fishery, concluding the fish stock is healthy, that the fishery minimizes its environmental impact, and that it has effective management in place. The certification stipulates the cooperative must put in plan a strategy for managing its impacts on other species and maintain responsible fishing practices.
"The sustainable practices of SATHOAN's small-scale bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean are a real sign of hope for the preservation of the oceans,” MSC France Senior Fisheries Manager Margaux Favret said. “Collaborative efforts from the fishery, NGOs, scientists, and fishing organisations have helped recover the bluefin tuna population, showing that collective action can make a difference to turn an overfished stock into a sustainable catch. When we know that 80 percent of the fish populations measured in the Mediterranean are overexploited, it is urgent to act.”
The French fishery becomes the second Atlantic bluefin fishery to attain MSC certification this year, following the 55-MT Usufuku Honten certification in July. Both fisheries entered the MSC assessment process in 2018, and both certifications have come under withering opposition from WWF.
“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 Mediterranean Marine Initiative Director Guiseppe Di Carlo said in a press release. “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.”
WWF criticized Control Union, accusing it of a lack of transparency and impartiality in assessing both fisheries. Control Union does not take into account the latest scientific assessment of the status of bluefin tuna stock released in August 2020, which showed “there is currently no scientific evidence of a full recovery of the bluefin tuna stock in the near future,” Di Carlo said.
“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,” Di Carlo wrote in a letter sent to MSC. “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.”
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.
WWF, which helped to found MSC two decades ago, has increasingly voiced its displeasure with the organization, with a leaked report in 2016 issuing withering criticism of the group’s processes.
Di Carlo repeated some of the criticisms from that report in his letter to MSC, sent 28 October.
“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,” he said. “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.”
For its part, the French artisanal fishery is committed to sustainable fishing practices, SATHOAN Managing Director Bertrand Wendling said.
"The SATHOAN fishermen know that their profession has huge responsibility in protecting the oceans and marine resources, particularly where certain populations were historically very weakened by overfishing, including bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean,” he said. “It was important for them to go further than the regulations in force and ensure activities are sustainable and respectful of ecosystems by working towards MSC certification in the interest of a preserved planet."
Photo courtesy of SATHOAN