Seafood New Zealand “self-suspends” MSC certification of orange roughy fishery

An orange roughy in New Zealand.

The east and south Chatham Rise stocks, which account for approximately 80 percent of New Zealand’s orange roughy catch, have lost their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. 

Losing the certification and its accompanying label is problematic for the fishery, which sends more than half its catch to the U.S.  

Last year, the fishery was recertified to the MSC standard, despite concern around the stock assessment the certification was based on, which used assumptions in its development that orange roughy reach full maturity at 30 years. In May 2022, new scientific evidence put the age of maturity and spawning at around 80 years, with only skipped spawning from 35 to 80 years of age, according to Fisheries New Zealand.

“Without an assessment, caution is always best,” Seafood New Zealand said. “We are committed to ensuring healthy, abundant fisheries are here to stay, and we need the best available science to inform fisheries management decisions. This week, we have gone a step further and self-suspended the Marine Stewardship Council certificate for the East and South Chatham Rise fishery – not because of stock level concerns, but because the MSC standard requires there to be a stock assessment.”

The 2020 stock assessment was reevaluated in 2023 by Fisheries New Zealand, according to Seafood New Zealand.

“The consensus of the working group was that the previously accepted assessment model for the (2020) ESCR can no longer be considered to accurately reflect stock status and the status of the stocks table has been removed,” it said. “Not only has the New Zealand Science Plenary withdrawn the existing stock assessments for this sub-stock, a new stock assessment is not expected until at least 2025 – making a quick fix to the problem unlikely.”

While the stock assessments are being reevaluated, Seafood New Zealand is working to develop a fisheries improvement plan (FIP) for the fishery, and buyers can see progress the fishery is making reattain certified status on the MSC’s website. In the meantime, buyers can still access MSC-certified orange roughy from New Zealand’s Northwest Chatham Rise fishery and Challenger fisheries.

“New Zealanders and international lovers of orange roughy – admired for its mild ‘less fishy’ flavor – will still be able to buy New Zealand-caught orange roughy,” Seafood  New Zealand said. “And having an MSC FIP for the East and South Chatham Rise still enables us to export orange roughy, while orange roughy for Kiwis shouldn’t be affected.”

But a group of environmentalists, led by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, oppose MSC certification of the fishery and are pushing for a ban on bottom-trawling for orange roughy.

“The orange roughy fishery has lost its certification for a number of reasons, one of them being that the New Zealand government has withdrawn its stock assessment for this fishery, as it was shown to be wrong,” said Barry Weeber, a marine environmental researcher with ECO, a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC). “What was supposed to be a booming fishery was not, with catch rates declining and fish were missing or much reduced from major spawning areas, there was just not the fish there to support this.” 

The coalition has launched a campaign calling on Ray Smith, the director general of the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries, to refrain from issuing any new high seas permits for the New Zealand bottom-trawling fleet. 

“If the New Zealand fishing industry had stopped trawling seamounts decades ago, the orange roughy fishery would not be in the appalling state it's in today,” Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Ellie Hooper said. “It's way past time for the government to step in and close these biodiversity hotspots to bottom trawling, once and for all.”

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Richards/Shutterstock


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500