IPNLF: Tuna fishery certification 'fatally flawed'

Published on
August 3, 2015

The integrity of the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) sustainability standard may have been put on the line with the certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean purse seine skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fishery, according to the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF).

An objection hearing that took place in London last week prompted IPNLF to air its sustainability concerns associated with the Echebastar fishery and its assessment, which suffers from fatal flaws noted John Burton, Chairman of the IPNLF.

“We expect all assessments to fully meet with the MSC standard, that the Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) assumes the role of independent third-party auditor and that the arguments and scoring put forward in the reports and in response to stakeholder comments are rational and supported by evidence. We consider that by no means has this been the case for the Echebastar fishery and that the determination to certify the fishery is fatally flawed. In our opinion, the CAB, Food Certification International (FCI) Ltd. now trading as Acoura Marine, showed a lack of understanding of Indian Ocean tuna fisheries in general and an almost complete lack of understanding of the workings of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC),” said Burton during the hearing.

Burton and IPNLF argue that the certification of the Echebastar fishery is lacking on three main counts, including:

  1. The assessment process had serious procedural and other irregularities that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment. The CAB had failed to take into account the views of others and had largely dismissed any criticism or comment on its approach and findings.
  2. A failure by the certifier to assess the various management regimes under which the Echebastar fleet operates within the Indian Ocean. The fact that these vessels sometimes operate in the extended economic zones of coastal states under the jurisdiction of EU fisheries partnership agreements had been largely ignored. These agreements have come under heavy criticism for failing to focus on sustainable exploitation, but rather on fishing opportunities and the financial consequences of these – often to the detriment of coastal states and regional conservation goals.
  3. The absence of a clear definition of what constitutes a free school or FAD-free fishery. The further absence of a legal framework for a free school fishery means that it could simply be based on a decision taken by the captain of a purse seiner, which has major implications on the reliability of data on shark mortalities and other by-catch.

This move to certify the Echebastar fishery on shaky grounds could very well detract from the overall value of the MSC standard, said Burton: “We maintain that if applied rigorously, the MSC standard provides a very good platform for delivering sustainable fisheries on a global scale. However, the experience with the Echebastar assessment threatens to undermine the value we have long placed on the standard’s credentials.”

“There are two things we must do and it’s critical that we achieve both: Firstly, ensure the long-term sustainability of the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries; and secondly, protect the integrity of the MSC process,” added Shiham Adam, Director for Science & Maldives for the IPNLF.

Managing Indian Ocean tuna stocks in effecient and effective ways will require committment from across the board, Adam said. "We need the support of all parties, including Echebastar, to get the action required at the IOTC to make this goal a reality,” he concluded.

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