Thursday, January 14, 2010

Alaska pollock fishery recommended for MSC recertfication

The Alaska pollock fishery has been recommended for MSC recertification as part of a mandatory 5 year review of its original approval in 2005 as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. The recertification assessment, which has been carried out by the certification body, Moody Marine, and a team of three independent experts, is now open to public comment. There has already been stakeholder consultation as part of the re-assessment process and the report has been peer-reviewed by 2 independent experts. The fishery has been evaluated and approved on 3 MSC principles: the sustainability of the fish stocks; ensuring the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends; and the effectiveness of the fishery management system to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability. Many environmental NGOs are opposed to the fishery's recertification, claiming that it is overfished and has by-catch problems.


  1. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has downgraded Alaska pollock in its Seafood Watch card which advises diners on best environmental choice when ordering fish. The rating of Alaska pollock has been downgraded from "best choice" to "a good alternative", to reflect what it describes as a "complex situation of positive management and negative impacts".

    The "negative impacts" refer to the midwater trawling gear used by the fishery hitting the seafloor an estimated 44% of the time, resulting in severe damage to seafloor habitats of the Bering Sea.

    On the positive side, the report cites some aspects of management of the fishery as progressive and precautionary, including "highly effective" steps towards an ecosystem-based approach.

    Greenpeace's John Hocevar (in an interview with IntraFish, a seafood industry news website) is reported as stating that he has "a lot of respect for the work that the Monterey Bay Aquarium put into their pollock report, and for the scientific rigour behind the Seafood Watch program in general", while he describes the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as "increasingly becoming a source of frustration as they certify - and re-certify - more and more fisheries that have significant conservation concerns".

    The MSC's vision is of "the world’s oceans teeming with life, and seafood supplies safeguarded for this and future generations." This sounds like something Greenpeace would agree with. The frustrations of Greenpeace may partly be with the MSC's chosen methods to attain this vision, which involve working in partnership with the industry, with the retailers, with the government scientists to try and ensure that fisheries which have huge challenges in terms of biomass and the health of the stock can actually be turned around and restored.

    This should not be read as implying that Greenpeace are against working in partnership with the fishing industry - I don't think that this is the case, However, its chosen method to protect oceans and fisheries involves a network of marine reserves.

    As I understand it, the MSC sees marine reserves as one tool in the box, but not necessarily the only way forward, which is presumably one reason why it is continuing to work with fisheries which have "significant conservation concerns", using other tools in the box to move towards its vision.

    The different reactions of Greenpeace to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the MSC above are also interesting. This may partly be due to the fact that the Aquarium's downgrading of Alaska pollock has reflected some of Greenpeace's concern, thereby eliciting Greenpeace's respect. The recommendation to recertify the fishery by Moody Marine does not allow such nuances however - the recommendation had to be either to recertify or not to recertify (although nuances will presumably be evident in any condiions attached to recertification). On the face of it though, there is a world of difference between recertifying and not recertifying on the one hand and the downgrading of pollock from "best choice" to "a good alternative" on the other. It is indeed a "complex situation".

  2. It's a sham - a complete sham. It's really too bad that the MSC has gone on the mass-ecocertification approach.

    A few weeks ago the United States Commerce Secretary Locke announced a "fishery disaster" on the Alaskan portion of the Yukon River. The Chinook salmon fishery has completely collapsed in the last few years (despite also being certified by MSC and scoring some of the highest marks in the MSC criteria in a recent re-assessment).

    The Bering sea pollock fishery catches over 60,000 Chinook salmon in bycatch (thrown overboard as illegal species) annually - largely bound for the Yukon River.

    Worse yet, the bycatch of other salmon species is over 700,000 annually. Not to mention the impact on endangered Steller's sea lions and northern fur seals.

    The MSC is at it again in regards to British Columbia (Canada) sockeye fisheries as well. The announcement will probably come next week that these fisheries are MSC certified despite a complete collapse of sockey on the Fraser River this past season(the mouth of the Fraser is Vancouver and site of the 2010 Winter Olympics starting at weeks end).

    Hopefully the sham becomes more recognized out there.

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    thanks for the posts.