Alaskan fishery disasters and Marine Stewardship Council – don’t worry… it’s sustainable

In my earlier post today I highlighted the recent announcement by the U.S. Government of a “fishery disaster” referring to the Yukon River Chinook salmon fishery. This past year, 2009, there was no Chinook fishery and in 2008 the fishery was 89% less than the five year average.

However, an extra ‘brave decision’ has been made in the last few days by Alaskan policy makers – reduce the gill net size by one inch to allow bigger fish through (but it won’t be imposed until 2011).

“Will this work? I don’t know, but we’ve got to do something,” fisheries board member Bill Brown [Alaska Board of Fisheries] of Juneau told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Too long this fishery has gone downhill.”

Canada.com article

So if you are one of the over ninety First Nation or Inuit communities, or several settler communities, on the Yukon River that vitally depends on yearly returns of salmon – don’t worry, this will be a case of where “one inch” makes all the difference in the world.

You also should not worry because the Yukon River salmon fisheries were certified by the Marine Stewardship Council in 2000 as sustainable well-managed fisheries as part of the overall Alaskan salmon fisheries.

The MSC is the world’s leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood.

In fact as highlighted in the July 2007 “5-year Re-assessment” of Commercial Alaska Salmon Fisheries by one peer reviewer of the report:

This fishery received the highest scores in the state for criteria 1.1.1, 1.1.2, and 1.1.3.

What do those criteria 1.1.1, etc. refer to? Well… MSC Principle 1 states:

A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of the exploited populations and, for those populations that are depleted, the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery.

(Also see post: “I’m sorry Marine Stewardship Council but your “Principles” may have some flaws…“)

The specific criteria referred to is:

1. The fishery shall be conducted at catch levels that continually maintain the high productivity of the target population(s) and associated ecological community relative to its potential productivity.

To be fair the specific peer reviewer, of which no name is given in the 2007 report, does suggest that the scoring for these criteria in relation to the Yukon River salmon fishery are probably “too high.”

However, this particular reviewer follows up with one of my new favorite quotes:

…I would have liked to see the text more clearly acknowledge that the failure to meet escapement goals in this region was almost certainly due to a series of years with poor environmental conditions, and not due to poor management

Is this not kind of like saying, gee… you know all those bank failures in the U.S. last year… that was due to the poor economic environment not the actual management practices of the bank.

Or, gee… that flooding from Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans was poor environmental conditions, not the management practices of engineers and city planners.

Next thing you know, British Columbia Ferries will be blaming the sinking of the Queen of the North on the environmental conditions that placed that darn island in the way – not the staff of the boat that ran it into the island.

Or, gee I’m signficantly overweight (now over 60% of the population), that’s because of the fatty food at the supermarket and McDonald’s – not my personal management decisions.

Come on folks. Maybe the changing environmental conditions – of which as far as I noticed is something that happens every second of every day – is exactly why we should not be killing 80% of estimated salmon runs expecting 20% to reproduce in perpetuity (i.e. the classic Canadian fisheries management tool of Maximum Sustainable Yield).

Or maybe we shouldn’t even be taking 50% of salmon runs, as practiced in Alaska.

The time for suggesting: “ummm, yeah, none of this is our fault – it’s the ocean’s fault…” are gone and should never have been around in the first place. You can’t hammer every salmon run imaginable for decades then throw up your hands and pretend you had nothing to do with declines.

It’s like the proverbial fart on the school bus, or elevator, or supermarket aisle  – a shrug and a point “wasn’t me… it was that guy…”

2 thoughts on “Alaskan fishery disasters and Marine Stewardship Council – don’t worry… it’s sustainable

  1. ANGRY CRABBERS COMMITTEE

    msC ha$ SOLD OUT!!! EH!?? I’LL LET EUROPE KNOW!!! THANK YOU CANADA!!! if I GET MY KING CRAB BACK, I’ll buy A ROUND of IRON HORSE TRIPLE STRENGH!!! for the HOUSE!!! ALL FISHERS/CRABBERS MUST VOICE OUR GREIVANCES TO WASHinGtON D.C.!!! ON Feb. 24 WERE GOING FOR THE TRIllion FISHERMAN MARCH TO BE HEARD!!! -LOUD AND CLEAR!!!- ALL WORDS GO DIRECTLY ON RECORD and ARE DIRECTED TO CONGRESS AND SENATE AND the SECRETary of COMMER$E. AND A MAN WHO STANDS FOR CHANGE,… ANY WISE WORDS FROM CANADA WILL CERTAINLY TRAVEL VERY FAR!!! ALL WE HAVE LEFT TO lose IS HOPE!!! -PEACE- L8r

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment from the north – hopefully some more comments from Alaska will come in.

    Generally, I’d like to think something like the MSC could be a great tool; however, the more I dig the more I am disgusted. Here’s a link to an article from The Times in the United Kingdom from November this past fall (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6908997.ece)
    Appears several of the MSC “ecocertified” fisheries are a farce. As the Times article points out – one of the first fisheries “ecocertified” by the MSC was the New Zealand Hoki in 2001. “Stocks promptly crashed and quotas were slashed from 250,000 tonnes to just 90,000 tonnes by 2007.”

    Alaska’s Bering Sea-Aleutian Island pollock fishery, in early 2000s concerns were raised about populations as appeared to have been reduced by half. Not until last year were quotas cut back by 20%. (This aside from the salmon bycatch approaching 1 million).

    Pacific Hake – more trawl fisheries – certified this past year by MSC despite the Pacific Fishery Management Council suggesting that spawning populations had declined by about 85% between 1984 and 2000. Yet the fishery has been at record levels the last few years at over 360,000 metric tonnes. Pacific hake are one of the most abundant fish species from California up through the Canadian coast – and one of the most important food sources for sea lions, seals, and a pile of other critters.

    And, well, gee the hake fishery has a whole lot of salmon bycatch – including endangered Chinook populations from the Sacramento River up through the Oregon coast.

    Look a little deeper into the MSC and their subsidiary Marine Stewardship Council International Limited brought in over 3 million pounds sterling – or somewhere around $6,000,000 last year from licensing the MSC logo. The MSC suggests they are approaching $1 billion in licensed seafood – and 6-7% of the worlds total catch.

    Staff wages for the organization went from just under 1.5 million pounds ($3 million) last year to almost 2.6 million pounds (over $5 million) this year.

    With retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Loblaws here in Canada, and others looking to “sustainable” sources – a sham like the MSC is only going to grow in popularity – especially if the real truth of the matter is not exposed.

    Like their Chief Executive, Rupert Howes was quoted in The Times article:
    “Fisheries science is an evolving business. At some stage in the future standards will be reviewed. In the interim, don’t let expectations of perfection obscure the significant progress that is being delivered.”

    Last I checked fisheries science was not a business… and Rupert, I’m not so sure with over 60 worldwide fisheries now MSC ecocertified if we can wait for that standards review. And I do wonder to whom the “significant progress” is being delivered?

    thanks again – and good luck in Washington.

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