The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) partnered with more than 50 international animal protection and conservation groups in January, sending a letter that questions the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seafood certification program, specifically about the way in which the organization deals with the bycatch of marine mammals and sharks in global fishing operations.
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“We’re not the first ones to raise concerns about the certification of MSC. A number of organizations have objected to fisheries in the past, and I think it’s a growing concern,” Kate O’Connell, AWI marine wildlife consultant, says. “We are finding certifications are taking place either without really good in-depth information on levels of bycatch of species like sharks and whale, or even where there might be information available, but they still go ahead and certify in hopes that they will be able to improve the fishery.”
The MSC notes that to be certified, fishing operations must be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function, and diversity of the ecosystem. This requires reducing bycatch, the incidental catch of non-target species such as other fish species, juveniles, corals, marine mammals, reptiles, or birds.
“MSC certified fisheries ensure that these incidences are investigated and minimized wherever possible so that they do not present a risk to the populations of these species,” says Jon P. Corsiglia, U.S. media manager for the MSC. “For example, the Western Australia rock lobster fishery modified its fishing technique to prevent sea lions from being trapped in lobster pots.”
Certification to the MSC Fisheries Standard is voluntary. It is open to all fisheries involved in the wild-capture of marine or freshwater organisms, which includes most types of fish and shellfish, of any size, type or location.
Since the inception of the MSC in 1999, the organization has periodically released studies of the performance of MSC certified fisheries.
“About a billion people rely on seafood as a fundamental part of their diet. Globally, around one in 10 people depend on fishing for their livelihood, while the economic value of industries related to fishing has been estimated at $2.9 trillion,” says Corsiglia. “So it’s vital that seafood stocks and the marine ecosystems that support them are cared for. The MSC is committed to understanding the environmental and organizational impacts of our program and evaluating how effectively we are delivering our mission.”
O’Connell notes that more than 650,000 marine mammals and millions of sharks die as bycatch in fisheries each year, and the letter to MSC demanded improvements to its bycatch standards, and to stop certification of fisheries catching top predators such as sharks and those that involve the deliberate setting of nets on whales and dolphins.
“One of the key issues we raised in the letter is our concern about what the MSC calls ‘conditions’ on fisheries and whether or not the conditions they put on the fisheries are sufficient to guarantee that you really will have sustainability and also protection for those species of sharks and others that might be impacted,” she says. “Many of us received a reply (from MSC) stating that they are considering the letter very carefully and that they will get back to us.”