The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) firmly stands against the MSC certification of purse seine fishing on free school skipjack in the waters of the island nations belonging to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) in the Western Pacific. In its published comments, as a stakeholder in the MSC assessment, ISSF calls a certification ‘not acceptable’ because the management system through the vessel day scheme that the PNA countries have introduced ‘does not yet exist’ and therefore cannot be considered as a standard operating procedure under the certification rules.
In a comment on its website, ISSF president Susan Jackson states that ‘PNA fishery is still not ready for certification’. Among other arguments, Jackson quotes from the audit report of the independent assessors at Moody Marine that the management of the skipjack still lack reference points as a ‘substantial weakness’.
The ISSF is one of the stakeholders who comment on the final assessment process started end of April under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify the purse seine fishing of free school skipjack in the waters of the PNA. The stakeholder comments are an important step in the assessment procedure. The questions raised by the ISSF should be attended by the PNA countries to get their fisheries certified. If the ISSF as a stakeholder is not satisfied with the answers, it might object to the certification, which will result in a time consuming procedure under an independent adjudicator who even might uphold the final certification.
In its published 18 page comment on the assessment, ISSF underlines that only through working together with the WCPFC can the PNA countries manage their skipjack stock in a sustainable way. This touches a controversial matter: the PNA countries decided to develop their own, more far reaching measures to protect the tuna stocks in their waters. They argue exactly the contrary: the WCPFC is highly ineffective as a body to impose a sustainable management of the fisheries, so the Pacifical nations -as resource owners- feel they are forced to take the lead on sustainability themselves.
According to the PNA countries the Western interests with their long distance fleets and canning industry frustrate a proper functioning of the WCPFC. And according to PNA exactly these same interests are the core of the ISSF.
In her comment ISSF president Jackson acknowledges that her organization seems to have an image-problem as a lobby of the powerful tuna business, but denies any influence of the latter. “Our coalition’s position on this certification has been portrayed as bullying – big western tuna canners using ISSF to penalize smaller, developing nations”, she writes. “But our comments speak to the sustainability of this proposed fishery, under the principles and priorities for assessment as determined by MSC, not to the business aspirations of any group either in the Pacific or anywhere else in the world.”
In its comment, the ISSF is critical about the effectiveness of control on by-catch in the operational way purse seiners are fishing in the PNA waters, with a mixture of FAD and free school fisheries. “Specifically, these include: the separation of the fishery into natural log sets versus un-associated sets versus FAD sets.” FAD fisheries are not allowed under the MSC certificate, so a strict separation of the fish on the same fishing vessel is a key issue in the certification.
Another point that seems to be raised by the ISSF is the yellowfin and bigeye that is caught in the purse seine skipjack fisheries. Both species are not considered a sustainable catch, but can easily slip in under the flag of MSC certified skipjack fishing, ISSF suggests.
According to the organisation, it is unclear if yellowfin and bigeye are to be considered target species in addition to the skipjack or by-catch. “Would the operational strategy of a vessel trip be the same if there were no yellowfin or bigeye? (…) Will by-catch decrease if a trip takes the same proportion of ‘certified’ un-associated sets and ‘uncertified’ log sets?”
The PNA skipjack certification is the most ambitious and important certification of sustainable tuna fisheries done so far in the world tuna industry. If approved, this Pacifical fishery could provide hundreds of thousands of tons of MSC certified skipjack for the world canning industry.
The MSC procedure allowed stakeholders to submit their comments on the PNA skipjack assessment report to the MSC until June 2nd. Now the Council will be reviewing these comments and will decide if they are serious enough to demand additional research or if these matters are well covered by the assessment and therefore the fisheries is ready for final certification. It is expected that within one month the verdict from MSC will be known.