Ross Sea toothfish fishery under fire


Steven Hedlund

Published on
November 29, 2009

A team of scientists and environmentalists on Friday criticized the Marine Stewardship Council and independent certifier Moody Marine for recommending that the Ross Sea toothfish fishery be certified as well-managed and sustainable under the MSC program.

The team — which includes the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Last Ocean Charitable Trust and Greenpeace — said the recommendation ignores 40 scientists from seven countries who argue that there’s too much uncertainty surrounding the health of the Ross Sea toothfish population to certify the fishery, which is managed by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

“The Ross Sea toothfish fishery is ‘exploratory’ under CCAMLR rules due to lack of scientific data and a reliable stock assessment,” said David Ainley, a marine scientist who’s been studying the Ross Sea for 35 years.

“Certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery ignores the very inexact science surrounding the fishery, including the age at which fish are fully mature and how often they breed,” added ASOC Executive Director Jim Barnes. “It flies in the face of public opinion and the wish to see one of the very few intact ocean ecosystems on Earth — the Ross Sea — fully protected as a marine reserve. Moody Marine’s analysis is shocking.”

The MSC on Friday responded to the criticism by clarifying that the fishery has not been certified. The 18 November final report issued by Moody Marine recommending that the fishery be certified is now subject to a 15-day working period whereby a party may object to the recommendation, and an independent adjudicator will consider the objections.

The MSC added that recommendation derived from a wide range of stakeholders and information from 65 published and unpublished reports. The fishery entered assessment in November 2007.

In addition to lack of scientific data and a reliable stock assessment, the team of scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the health of the Ross Sea toothfish population because the species is long-lived and doesn’t start breeding until 16 years of age, which makes it prone to overfishing.

“There is a great uncertainty about the toothfish population and its biology,” said Dr. Sidney Holt, an independent expert on fish population dynamics. “It is completely inappropriate for the MSC to consider certifying this fishery.”

Over the past 10 years, 16,219 metric tons of toothfish has been harvested from Area 88.1 and 2,037 metric tons in Area 88.2. The current annual quota is 2,850 metric tons in Area 88.1 and 575 metric tons in Area 88.2.

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