The objection hearing against the certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean purse seine skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna fishery in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for sustainable fisheries was held in London at the end of last week. The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF), which helps to develop the supply of socially and environmentally responsible tuna pole-and-line/handline fisheries worldwide, was one of the parties attending this hearing and raised some serious concerns about the sustainability of this particular fishery.
At the hearing, John Burton, Chairman of the IPNLF, stated that the IPNLF had been involved in the assessment process of the Echebastar fishery from the outset and as such had assumed all the stakeholder responsibilities by advising and informing the assessment and reviewing the outcome to ensure that it complied with the MSC standard.
“We expect all assessments to fully meet with the MSC standard, that the Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) assumes the role of independent third-party auditor and that the arguments and scoring put forward in the reports and in response to stakeholder comments are rational and supported by evidence. We consider that by no means has this been the case for the Echebastar fishery and that the determination to certify the fishery is fatally flawed. In our opinion, the CAB, Food Certification International (FCI) Ltd. now trading as Acoura Marine, showed a lack of understanding of Indian Ocean tuna fisheries in general and an almost complete lack of understanding of the workings of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC),” said Burton.
The basis for IPNLF’s objection to the certification of the fishery centres on three key contentions:
- The assessment process had serious procedural and other irregularities that made a material difference to the fairness of the assessment. The CAB had failed to take into account the views of others and had largely dismissed any criticism or comment on its approach and findings.
- A failure by the certifier to assess the various management regimes under which the Echebastar fleet operates within the Indian Ocean. The fact that these vessels sometimes operate in the extended economic zones of coastal states under the jurisdiction of EU fisheries partnership agreements had been largely ignored. These agreements have come under heavy criticism for failing to focus on sustainable exploitation, but rather on fishing opportunities and the financial consequences of these – often to the detriment of coastal states and regional conservation goals.
- The absence of a clear definition of what constitutes a free school or FAD-free fishery. The further absence of a legal framework for a free school fishery means that it could simply be based on a decision taken by the captain of a purse seiner, which has major implications on the reliability of data on shark mortalities and other by-catch.
“The IPNLF has been particularly involved in assisting the Maldives pole-and-line fishery meet the MSC standard and a large part of our medium-term strategy is to also promote the MSC standard with other pole-and-line and handline fisheries, such as those in Indonesia and Ecuador. We maintain that if applied rigorously, the MSC standard provides a very good platform for delivering sustainable fisheries on a global scale. However, the experience with the Echebastar assessment threatens to undermine the value we have long placed on the standard’s credentials,” added Burton.
Also at the hearing, Dr Shiham Adam, Director for Science & Maldives for the IPNLF, elaborated on the FAD-free school issue by reminding attendees that the IOTC Secretariat does not currently record by-catch and endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species data separately for free- and log-schools and that it is therefore impossible to distinguish between the impacts that Echebastar’s fleet currently has on highly vulnerable species such as oceanic whitetip sharks and silky sharks. The IOTC’s Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch (IOTC-WPEB) gave a high vulnerability ranking to both these shark species in interactions with purse seine gear. The IUCN status for silky sharks in the western and eastern Indian Ocean is ‘Near Threatened’ and ‘Vulnerable’ while this is the finding for oceanic whitetip sharks globally. These potential impacts were largely ignored in the assessment of the fishery.
“In our opinion the fishery substantially fails the MSC requirements for having a robust fisheries management regime in place. The lack of any legal definition of the fishery makes it difficult to understand how governments can control catches or any other aspects of their operations. Efficient and effective management of Indian Ocean tuna stocks will require commitment and input from us all. We need the support of all parties, including Echebastar, to get the action required at the IOTC to make this goal a reality. While European purse seine owners may pursue other business opportunities, if Indian Ocean tuna stocks collapse, the coastal communities of pole-and-line/handline fishermen and other tuna-dependent small-scale fishers would be left with extremely limited prospects. There are two things we must do and it’s critical that we achieve both: Firstly, ensure the long-term sustainability of the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries; and secondly, protect the integrity of the MSC process,” said Adam.
The IPNLF believes the improvements in the regional management of tuna stocks that have been driven by the leadership role played by the Maldives stands in stark contrast to the flaws in the Echebastar assessment and the limited conservation role often played by distant water fleets. Indeed the lead taken by the Maldives in pushing for the adoption of IOTC Resolutions 12/01 on the implementation of the precautionary approach and IOTC Resolution 13/10 on interim target and limit reference points was a turning point and subsequently paved the way for the adoption of more stringent management measures in the region.
“The Maldives has become one of the main advocates for the conservation of tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean and there is no doubt that the MSC certification of its skipjack fishery has played a major role in some of the country’s initiatives. Given the past and current commitment to MSC, we want to ensure that the MSC standard remains robust and rigorous and that those fisheries that are determined to meet it have passed through a comprehensive and credible assessment process. Efficient and effective management of Indian Ocean tuna stocks will require commitment and involvement from all of the stakeholders involved,” said Adam.