The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) believes that all fishery certification schemes should be transparent and include the balanced and fair participation by all interested parties, and additionally that certification outcomes should be based on the best scientific evidence available.
It is due to this standpoint that IPNLF lodged an official objection against the Conformity Assessment Body’s (CAB) decision to recertify the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) fishery against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard. The evidence presented by IPNLF during the objection process focussed on a number of issues including the compartmentalisation of the PNA fishery and the strength of scientific evidence pointing to the environmentally unsustainable practices within this fishery, including clear evidence that shark finning occurs, which is a breach of MSC policies.
As with the fishery’s previous assessment, only the ‘FAD-free’ component was assessed, despite the fact that the same vessels also deploy drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) and fish on these FADs during the same fishing trip. Crucially, the MSC itself recently recognised that a system which allows for only the ‘FAD-free’ part of a fishery to be certified, while ignoring the serious environmental impacts of its FAD fishing operations, is not a workable solution. The new MSC requirement, approved by its Board in January this year, now expects all fishing activities on a target stock on a single trip to be certified. Unfortunately, the new requirement has not been applied to the PNA fishery, and it appears that this fishery will be exempted for a further three to four years before having to fall in line with the new policy.
The way in which the PNA fishery has been allowed to compartmentalise its fishery, and only allow the ‘good part’ of its fishing operations to be scrutinised, also raises serious concerns around equity and fairness in how fisheries are assessed. Small-scale and artisanal tuna fisheries, such as those using pole-and-line, handline or troll gear, are expected to subject all its fishing activities to scrutiny when entering assessment against the MSC Standard, while a large-scale industrial operation, such as the PNA fishery, is allowed to only have a part of its activities and environmental impacts assessed. A system that allows equal market recognition for small-scale fisheries that have to ‘jump through all the hoops’ and industrial fisheries that can ‘take shortcuts’ is not in alignment with international instruments such as the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals that make it clear that small-scale and artisanal fishers should be provided with equal access to markets.
In the objection, IPNLF also raised concerns about the environmental sustainability of the fishery due to the impacts that it is having on endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species. Since the PNA fishery was first certified in December 2011, the number of IUCN red-listed silky sharks caught during fishing operations has almost doubled. Furthermore, clear evidence pointing to the illegal practice of shark finning in the fishery was largely ignored by the CAB despite the MSC having a zero-tolerance policy on shark finning.
The CAB referred to MSC’s Interpretation Log, a private interpretation that was only available to the CAB and MSC, as justification for their score on shark finning. However, the IA confirmed that: “…it is not legitimate for the CAB to rely on the Interpretation Log when assessing the PNA’s Fishery’s compliance…”, and, “It is wrong for a publicly available standard to be interpreted based upon a privately available policy...” and finally with reference to the MSC’s transgression “It is … surprising, … that when asked the MSC did not disclose the full Log to the parties”.
The IA concluded that: “I agree with the Objector [IPNLF] that the [CAB’s] scoring of the shark finning indicator was arbitrary because it relied upon a document which was illegitimate and unfair…”. It is therefore of great concern to IPNLF, and hopefully to all stakeholders, that having found the CAB’s scoring of shark finning to be arbitrary, the IA then upheld the CAB’s scoring based on a personal view and interpretation.
Commenting on the ruling, Martin Purves, Managing Director of IPNLF, says "There has been a lot of conjecture surrounding this objection process and IPNLF’s reasons for raising issues around the concepts of sustainability. From the beginning we have focused on the scientific evidence and on the need for the standard to be applied fairly across all fisheries, and not just parts of fisheries. We are disappointed in the assessment and objection process, as this is a big missed opportunity by the MSC to drive some much needed improvements in tuna fisheries. We nevertheless hope that the environmental and equity issues that we’ve raised with this assessment will be recognised by markets and consumers alike."
A more detailed discussion of the outcome of the objection process and the sustainability issues in the PNA fishery can be found on the IPNLF website at this link.