On 14 September, SeafoodSource published an article reviewing a scientific paper written by Producers’ Association of Large Tuna Freezers (OPAGAC), a Spanish industry organization, criticizing the policies of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in regard to fish aggregating devices (FADs). MSC responded with a letter to SeafoodSource addressing the reasons behind its policies. SeafoodSource replied to MSC to ask three follow-up questions regarding issues not explicitly discussed by the organization in its letter. Here are MSC’s responses:
SeafoodSource: Does MSC consider the use of FADs an “unsustainable” method of fishing?
MSC: Certification to the MSC Fisheries Standard is based on comprehensive assessment of the impacts of a particular fishery and the environment within which it operates. Therefore, because of the variations in the impacts that different FADs and fishing techniques can have in different marine environments, the MSC Fisheries Standard does not include specific requirements for FAD use, nor does it prohibit the use of FADs. However MSC requirements that any impacts on bycatch species are sustainable mean that fisheries using FADs with high or unknown levels of bycatch can struggle to achieve certification. There are currently no purse seine fisheries certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard for tuna caught using drifting FADs. However, there are some purse seine fisheries on free schools (“unassociated” with floating objects) that are certified, and two MSC certified fisheries which catch tuna associated with anchored FADs.
SeafoodSource: Does MSC believe its definition of a drifting FAD is sufficiently clear?
MSC: The regional management system within which the fishery operates defines what constitutes a FAD or “unassociated” fishing operation, and this is used by MSC assessors. For example, in the Western Central Pacific, the WCPFC provides a clear definition for FAD associated catch. This definition is used by all fisheries operating within the region. The independent MSC assessors use data from fishing activities under this definition when determining whether or not that particular fishing operation meets the MSC’s requirements. Therefore it’s not the definition which is important, but whether or not that particular fishing operation is sustainable. Adopting a different definition of FAD and “unassociated” fishing operations, at odds with the current management practices, would cause duplication of effort, confusion and ultimately potential for inaccurate reporting.
SeafoodSource: Does MSC agree with OPAGAC’s statement that “All industrial tuna purse seiners depend on drifting FADs for a significant part of their catches”? If that is true, then does MSC believe it is economically viable for tuna-fishing companies not to use FADs?
MSC: The reliance of purse seine tuna fisheries on drifting FADs, and their environmental impact, varies significantly by ocean, fleet and fishing technique. The MSC program aims to incentivise change in the way our oceans are fished by rewarding and recognising the development of sustainable fishing techniques. In the case of tuna fishing this incentive could encourage more fishers to adopt free school fishing methods, as we are already seeing in the MSC certified PNA fishery, or to find new ways to reduce any unsustainable impacts of fishing on FADs - again we see considerable research being undertaken by the fishing industry to reduce the environmental impacts of FADs. Through these innovations and improvements, we believe that fishers can continue to catch tuna in a way which is both profitable and sustainable.