Another step has been taken in the process instituted by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for the ecolabelling of skipjack tuna from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) as a FADs (fish-aggregating devices)-free purse-seine fishery. After three groups objected to this certification – the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF – a grouping of the industry, the WWF and scientists), Organización de Productores Asociados de Grandes Atuneros Congeladores (OPAGAC) and Eurothon - an independent adjudicator released her decision.
ATUNA highlights that, in her decision, ‘the objection of the tuna industry groups, that serious procedural and other irregularities have taken place in the report by certification body Intertek Moody Marine Inc., was dismissed and not upheld by the adjudicator’. But, it continues, ‘ISSF sent a twitter message around the world with the text: “independent review blocks MSC certification of PNA skipjack tuna”’. However ATUNA concludes that this cannot be firmly concluded on the basis of the report. It appears that the adjudicator did conclude that the tuna industry groups identified five points in the final assessment report that were related to mistakes of fact – these needed to be sent back to Intertek Moody Marine for correction or clarification in their report. ‘On seven other objections, it was ruled that they were not upheld and the PNA and the certification body successfully convinced the adjudicator.’
However, ISSF, in its press release, insists on the fact that ‘the final assessment report did not identify, with accuracy and consistency, the PNA’s share of the region’s skipjack catch and the certifier had no scientific basis to conclude that PNA would be capable of managing the entire migratory stock … Other objections recognised by the adjudicator include the lack of defined harvest control rules, and a deficiency in monitoring and catch reporting, specifically for Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam’. The ISSF president added: ‘The entire Pacific region needs strong support to meet higher standards for by-catch mitigation, data reporting, and comprehensive monitoring, control and surveillance’.
ATUNA also highlights the reaction of the director of the PNA, who ‘welcomed the independent adjudicator’s ruling which has dismissed most of the objection to certification and will work with the certification body to clarify the few technical issues requested … a full certification of the free-school skipjack fishery will be a landmark decision and recognition for the 29 years of good governance by the eight PNA nations of the world’s largest skipjack fishery, which is predominantly in their EEZs and managed under the PNA agreement’.
The ISSF platform of scientists, environmentalists and industry may seem like an ideal partnership, but as this case highlights, remaining impartial when the interests of some industry members are affected raises challenges – in this case, there is a potential conflict of interests for the Spanish tuna fleet members of ISSF (through OPAGAC), which operates only with FADs. This case also shows the difficulties of applying MSC certification in fisheries with highly migratory stocks distributed over a wide area, and with many stakeholders involved in the exploitation of such stocks. Without a high degree of cooperation of all involved in the fishery, it can always be argued that the fishery is not managed sustainably by the coastal states, and that the fishery cannot therefore be certified. Even if this skipjack fishery is finally certified, the threat of ‘de-certification’ will always be there. To maximise opportunities to get better market shares and prices for their products on international markets, like the European market, the PNA should also look at other ways of promoting the qualities of FADs free caught tuna. As was highlighted in a recent study, there is a definite interest in EU markets in sourcing their tuna from fleets using more environmentally friendly techniques, like pole-and-line (whose economic viability currently seems uncertain) or FADs-free purse-seine fisheries. This opportunity should be grasped by Pacific ACP countries.