PNA skipjack tuna fishery earns MSC recertification over objections

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s (PNA) skipjack tuna fishery has been recertified to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council, despite objections from the International Pole and Line Federation and the On the Hook advocacy group, which lodged 24 separate challenges to the certification.

The PNA includes the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. The total annual tuna catch in PNA waters is around 1.6 million metric tons, including about 50 percent of the world’s supply of skipjack tuna, making it the world’s largest tuna fishery by volume. About half of the total tuna catch from PNA waters, or about 790,000 metric tons, is MSC-certified. 

An independent adjudicator ruled on the challenges to the fishery’s MSC certification on 28 February, dismissing complaints that fishery produces significant amounts of bycatch and permits shark-finning.

“This highlights the strength of the MSC process. As a result of this objection, more information is now in the public domain about the PNA fishery, adding to the information in the published assessment report, and improving the transparency of the fishery’s management,” MSC Science and Standards Director David Agnew said. “This confirms that the PNA skipjack tuna fishery is a sustainable and well-managed fishery that has made considerable improvements over the course of its first MSC certificate. People buying MSC-labeled PNA tuna can be confident that their purchase is making a positive difference to the sustainability of our oceans.” 

The International Pole and Line Federation claimed that shark-finning was systematically taking place within the fishery and that a significant number of silky sharks, which are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The adjudicator ruled that 100 percent observer coverage of the fishery and other deterrence strategies have reduced shark-finning “to a very limited extent.” De-certifying the entire fishery for isolated incidents of shark-finning is “unrealistic,” the adjudicator said.

The MSC banned the practice of shark finning from the program from 2013, and the PNA governments also implemented their own ban on shark finning, and the practice of shark finning has been virtually eliminated in PNA waters over the past few years. Shark finning now only happens in isolated cases and prosecutions have been brought against these occurrences with fines being levied on the perpetrators. As part of the auditor’s recommendations, the PNA will need to continue to demonstrate that prosecutions and enforcement actions are maintained within the fishery.

“The MSC standard could be rendered obsolete by such an absolutist position, resulting in many fisheries failing, greatly undermining the implementation of the MSC standards, which contribute significantly to the aims of sustainability and environmental protection,” the adjudicator said.

On the issue of silky shark bycatch, the adjudicator concluded the PNA skipjack tuna fishery “has no significant detrimental direct effect on silky shark,” given the species comprises 0.05 percent of the catch in the MSC-certified portion of the fishery.

In response to the ruling, the On the Hook campaign said it was “shocked” that the PNA has been recertified as a sustainable fishery. 

“The PNA is now being rewarded for its poor record on sustainability, going against the MSC's claims of reforms. It is receiving the same certification as truly sustainable fisheries even though it is a matter of fact that shark-finning has taken place and high levels of bycatch of protected species are being caught in the fishery,” it said in a press statement. “By allowing the PNA to carry its blue-tick logo, the MSC is associating itself with a fishery that engages in damaging practices and fails to be transparent about the scale of them.”

On the Hook said it will continue campaign to ensure that the MSC changes its standard to ensure that only wholly sustainable fisheries are certified, including continuing to urge the MSC to urgently review the standard that allows fishing vessels to catch MSC-certified products in the same trip as non MSC-certified products. 

“In the PNA, a fishing vessel and crew can use the same gear one day to fish tuna sustainably, receiving the MSC certification, and then on the same trip be hauling turtles, sharks, juvenile tuna, and other protected species unsustainably,” the group said.

In January, the MSC board decided to eliminate the practice, but it gave fisheries already under assessment or certified three years from August 2018 to make the transition to the new requirements.


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