“On the Hook” advocacy group formed to challenge MSC tuna certification

Published on
September 1, 2017

A group of nonprofits, food retailers, Members of Parliament, and marine conservation activists have formed a new advocacy group in the United Kingdom to challenge the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification of the world’s largest tuna fishery.

The group is led by celebrity chef and environmental activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and includes retailers American Tuna, Migros, World Wise Foods, Ocean Harvesters Operative, Woolworths South Africa; nonprofits BLOOM, the Blue Marine Foundation, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Ecology Action Centre, Fish Tales, and the Animal Welfare Institute, among others; Members of Parliament including Kerry McCarthy, Richard Benyon, and Zac Goldsmith; and academics Callum Roberts of the University of York, Jennifer Jacquet of New York University, Megan Bailey of Dalhousie University, Professor Michael Tlusty of the University of Massachusetts, and Thomas Appleby of the University of the West of England.

In a letter sent to the MSC, the group has asked for the immediate halt of an ongoing recertification of the tuna fishery in waters controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, which includes theFederated 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. About half of the total tuna catch from PNA waters, or about 790,000 metric tons, is MSC-certified. 

In 2011, the MSC certified skipjack caught in PNA waters using certain methods of fishing as sustainable, and followed that up in 2016 by certifying yellowfin tuna caught using approved methods. On the Hook has criticized that decision, as the certification allows fishing vessels to catch tuna using MSC-certified methods to also fish in non-certified methods in the same trip.

“Considering whether the entire fishery is suitable for MSC certification is not only the correct way, it should be the only way to assess the suitability of a fishery for MSC certification,” On the Hook said in a letter sent to MSC this week. “Therefore, our position is that the entire fishery must be assessed for its suitability to meet the MSC standard for it to be certified. As you know, this has not happened with the PNA fishery."

In a response to On the Hook, the organization said MSC stated it will not intervene in the recertification process being undertaken by Acoura Marine. The MSC recently announced it will be reviewing its standards, but the process will not be completed until August 2018 at the earliest, according to On the Hook. If Acoura Marine recertifies the PNA tuna fishery, it would be valid for five years, making 2022 the earliest date at which the fishery’s certification could be revisited, according to On the Hook.

“By considering the re-certification of the PNA fishery, the MSC is not only putting its reputation on the line, but also the reputations of the retailers and other crucial stakeholders who have supported you,” On the Hook wrote to MSC in its letter. “We fear that MSC might be losing its way and, more than ever, needs its Board to put it back on the right course to maintain the support of its stakeholders. We therefore ask you to immediately halt the re-certification of the PNA fishery and review the MSC standard now in relation to allowing MSC-certified products to be caught alongside such unsustainable methods of fishing.” 

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