The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), comprising eight Pacific-island countries, has entered into a process potentially leading to the ecolabelling of a skipjack tuna fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). An independent assessment team recommended that the fishery should be granted this ecolabel provided that it meets certain conditions. The next step is for stakeholders to review the final report and submit any objections to its results, which will be reviewed by an independent adjudicator assigned by the MSC. One of these stakeholders, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), a coalition of environmental, scientific and industry players issued a position that this fishery should not be granted the MSC label.
The ISSF’s main concern is ‘an overarching flaw with the assessment team’s approach, which failed to take into account the significant shortcomings of the intergovernmental body responsible for managing the entire stock of tuna, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission … the primary components of scientifically sound management as required by the MSC standards do not yet exist within the WCPFC … As the applicant for MSC certification, the PNA was consulted and assessed based on a plan of aspirations, not one that is currently in practice on the water. This group of governments is not a fishery-management body but a cooperative organisation with a mission, in part, to secure greater economic benefits from the tuna resources in its collective waters and to co-ordinate and harmonise the management of common fish stocks for the benefit of its people … The PNA may very well be more committed and motivated to manage tuna in its waters than the remaining members of the WCPFC. Unfortunately, even if true, it would be irrelevant. The first and most fundamental MSC certification principle is that a fishery [can] only pass if the whole fish stock(s) meet the standard.’
The arguments put forward by the ISSF highlight the issues that Pacific ACP countries, and more generally ACP countries, will encounter for ecolabelling a stock shared and exploited by many countries which may not all have the same level of concern for the sustainability of the fishery. Indeed, in this case, the lack of a clear commitment among all fishing countries – most of which are distant-water fishing fleets – to manage this stock sustainably leaves open the possibility that unsustainable fishing could take place and affect the whole stock, even if coastal countries, grouped here in the PNA, are engaged to sustainably manage a significant part of that stock. In current ecolabelling schemes, it is almost impossible for ACP local producers using sustainable fishing practices to have their efforts recognised, when other users active in the same fishery behave unscrupulously. This calls for an analysis at ACP level about the possibilities of developing alternative labelling schemes that are better adapted to recognising ACP producers’ efforts to engage in environmentally and socially sustainable fisheries.