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Pacific: Tuna fishing industry is not supplying MSC tuna

19 November 2012

In mid-2012, the free-school skipjack purse-seine fishery of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) was the first ever tuna fishery to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

But this MSC certification required full traceability of the ‘chain of custody’ from catch to the processing factory. As the same vessels catch skipjack both with and without using fish aggregation devices (FADs), such traceability is needed to guarantee that the fish has been caught without FADs and did not get mixed up on board with fish that was caught using FADs.

Putting in place such traceability remains a challenge, although several measures have been taken to address it – in particular, there are PNA onboard observers on every purse-seiner fishing in PNA waters to monitor the chain of custody.

However, another issue is the fact that, until now, industry has not played its part: not a single trial for delivering certified fish has as yet been successful. This means that the PNA has been unable to start supplying the global demand for MSC-certified skipjack, despite having received commitments from markets and retailers to buy this product. ‘Maybe they are making too much money to care about certification’, according to the PNA manager, who highlighted that although the price of skipjack on the global market has more than doubled in the last year, MSC-certified skipjack could still bring an additional 20% profit. 

Editorial comment

The MSC itself recognises that price premiums are not guaranteed for MSC products – the main benefit being the opening up of new markets for certified tuna products which could potentially bring additional profits. However, it certainly also leads to increased costs: separate holds have to be fitted on board in order to ensure that fish caught with and without FADs are kept separate; administrative operations related to the certification have to be dealt with, etc. Given the fact that the higher profits needed to cover such additional costs are not guaranteed, specific public-funded schemes may be needed to help producers adapt to these additional requirements If they are to deliver non-FAD caught products.


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