Halifax—Sustainable seafood advocates were disappointed by the recent decision to allow the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to eco-certify the Canadian longline swordfish fishery that is responsible for high bycatch of sharks and endangered sea turtles.
On February 7th the world's largest seafood certification system dismissed an objection filed by three major marine conservation organizations—the Ecology Action Centre, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy—allowing the certification to go ahead with only minor amendments to conditions that require some additional detail on timing of implementation.
The MSC assessment of the fishery acknowledges that two sharks die for every swordfish caught in this fishery and that the fishery kills between 200- 500 endangered sea turtles every year. Neither fact will prevent the newly-certified fishery from selling swordfish marked with MSC's 'blue check mark' as of March 2012. Longline-caught swordfish is listed on Canada's SeaChoice Red 'Avoid' list, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Red 'Avoid' list, and Greenpeace International Seafood Red List. These assessments are based on the best science available, include strict conservation criteria, and are not paid for by industry clients.
"We're at a point where eco-certification of seafood means less and less," says Jordan Nikoloyuk, Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator of the Ecology Action Centre. "This certification really adds confusion to the marketplace and eco-conscious shoppers have to take the time to ask questions about how their fish is caught or risk being misled and even ripped off by certification companies."
The objection submitted by conservation organizations proposed that the high levels of shark and sea turtle bycatch, the low levels of at-sea monitoring, and the fishery's unwillingness to move toward international best practices are reasons why it should fail the MSC certification process. In his written decision, the adjudicator for the objection did not evaluate arguments about evidence and instead showed "deference to the determinations of the Certification Body."
"This certification sets a low-bar precedent for pelagic longline fisheries and undermines other MSC certified fisheries that truly deserve recognition in the marketplace, "said Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. He concluded that, "a fishery operating far below best practices and that has significant, ongoing impacts on endangered species should not be framed as an environmentally-friendly choice for consumers who truly care about the health of our oceans."
The conservation organizations are recommending that retailers take a hard second look at this certification before committing to procure the product. If retailers value overall ocean health, then the turtle and shark by-catch in this fishery should deter them from procuring this product under their sustainable seafood policies.
The objecting conservation groups are asking retailers and restaurateurs to commit to choosing harpoon-caught swordfish, which is available as a bycatch-free alternative, instead of this unsustainable long-line caught swordfish.
Marydele Donnelly, Director of International Policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, notes "harpoon-caught swordfish is an excellent choice and will ensure consumers aren't eating swordfish with huge sides of shark and turtle." She adds, "The U.S. market needs to take a hard look at Canadian levels of bycatch."
This fishery now must undergo annual audits to keep its certification. No fishery has had its certification revoked in the MSC's 11 years of operation.
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For more information, please contact:
Jordan Nikoloyuk, Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, (902) 446-4840
Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation, (778) 558-3984
Marydele Donnelly, Director of International Policy, Sea Turtle Conservancy, (410) 750-1561