Icelandic lumpfish fishery regains MSC certification after addressing bycatch issues

Published on
December 3, 2020

An Iceland-based, small-scale lumpfish fishery has regained its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – effectively overturning its 2017 suspension during the first season of validity – according to a 2 December press release.

After an annual audit of the Icelandic Sustainable Fishery (ISF) revealed bycatch issues, the fishery withdrew its MSC bid in 2018 and set to work making the “necessary improvements in the past years to meet the science-based standard for sustainable fishing,” MSC said. Main markets operators encouraged ISF to pursue the process, to keep pace with the 90 percent of lumpfish fisheries in the North Atlantic at the time who had MSC approval.

ISF, its members, the National Small Boat Owner Association, and the Marine and Fresh Water Research Institute, with help from the management authority and the Ministry of Industries and Innovation, discovered ways to reduce fishery interactions “with other marine life, such as black guillemots and harbor seals,” MSC said. The fishery also enacted a series of initiatives to reduce bycatch, closure of fishing areas, and hunting bans, as well as to increase observer capacity.

Furthermore, logbook registration in the Icelandic catching sector is now mandatory digital and online via apps and tablets, “which shall provide more accurate, effective and simplified logbook registration,” according to MSC. Additional research is underway in the fishery to assess the effectiveness of using a pinger to prevent unwanted bycatch from net entanglement.

“The fishery client group has been and still is instrumental on the journey to permanent solutions to the issue. Implementing these new management measures have demonstrated the fishery now meets the MSC Fishery Standard requirements on minimising impact on the marine environment. However, MSC certification is conditional on the gill-net fishery showing it has reduced bycatches further within the next five years,” MSC said in its press release.

MSC Senior Program Manager in the North Atlantic Gísli Gíslason is lauding the fishery’s effort as a comeback.

“This comeback of the Icelandic lumpfish fishery confirms once again the effective fishery client setup, where ISF and its members successfully engage together with stakeholders and management authorities and deliver the needed improvements,” Gíslason said. “This is almost the MSC theory in practice. The fishery client contributes both to the ocean health ensuring less bycatch and meeting the market demand for sustainable seafood. That is the MSC vision, i.e. that the oceans teeming with life, and seafood supplies safeguarded for this and future generations. I congratulate ISF, the Icelandic lumpfish industry and everyone involved for this achievement.”

ISF Project Manager Kristinn Hjálmarsson said that the process has shown the tenacity and teamwork inherent in the fishery’s community, which will continue to help it improve and thrive.

“This was a challenge, which makes it all the more rewarding that lumpfish fisheries have passed the assessment,” Hjálmarsson said. “It shows the commitment among Icelandic stakeholders to improve and maintain a sustainable interaction between fishing for food and all marine life. The certification is conditional, and we will continue to improve. We want the conditions to be closed because that means that we have found a solution to a problem. Finding solutions makes us more confident as it means we have found a new way to ensure sustainability of our fisheries. It is important to remember that our economy, the general wellbeing in Iceland, relies on sustainable fisheries. Achieving an MSC certification is a testament of a culture of sustainability.”

Lumpfish roe is sold in European markets, while the fish itself is attractive to buyers in China, MSC noted.

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