Menhaden fishery’s MSC certification challenged

The Marine Stewardship Council certification of one of the largest fisheries in the United States is being challenged by environmental groups, who claim there’s not enough data to prove the fishery is sustainable.

Omega Protein, based in Houston, Texas, requested MSC certification for the U.S. Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) and U.S. Gulf of Mexico menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) fisheries in June 2017. The company, which was bought by Cooke Inc. on 6 October, is the largest harvester of menhaden in the United States.

The MSC is currently assessing the fishery through third-party auditor SAI Global, with a decision expected in early 2018, according to an Associated Press report.

However, environmental groups including the Recirculating Farms Coalition and the Gulf Restoration Network, both based in New Orleans, Louisiana, have called for the certification to be denied, claiming there is not enough data from the fishery to prove it’s sustainably managed. They cite the fact that its bycatch data is considered confidential under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act because only two companies make up the fishery.

“People cannot get enough good information about the fishery to know whether it could be considered sustainable or not,” the Recirculating Farms Coalition said in a statement posted on its website. “It is therefore difficult to support any MSC certification when there is little current publicly available information to confirm it.”

More than a billion pounds of menhaden have been caught every year since at least 1950, with most coming to shore in Louisiana, Virginia, and Mississippi in recent years, according to the AP. It is used for products such as pet food, fish oil, aquaculture feed, and bait. 

Federal authorities have placed an annual catch cap on the Atlantic menhaden fishery, but there is currently no cap on the Gulf menhaden fishery, except for in Texas state waters.

“This means that companies could reach the annual catch cap in the Atlantic, and then go fish more in the Gulf,” the Recirculating Farms Coalition said in its statement.

Omega Protein Director of Public Affairs Ben Landry said his company is pursuing MSC certification because more of its clients are starting to require it.

“We are extremely proud of the work we’ve done to conduct our fishing operations sustainably, and we’re excited to share this work with the auditors as they undertake this assessment to the MSC standard,” Landry said. “We are confident that the menhaden fishery will meet the MSC standard, recognizing its advances in responsible harvesting methods as we continue to pursue the most sustainable fishing practices available.”


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