No need for concern

The Marine Stewardship Council announced two days ago that it had hired three new independent adjudicators.

In line with the rapid growth of fisheries entering its seafood ecolabel and certification programme, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has increased the number of Independent Adjudicators that are available to review and resolve contested certifier decisions.

bycatch thrown overboard from a shrimp fishery - National Geographic

Some curious language here that raises some questions in my mind.

First, the Marine Stewardship Council needs more adjudicators to resolve “contested” certifier decisions… could this maybe mean there’s a problem with the certifiers, or the process, if so many stakeholders are contesting?

Could this maybe mean there are some serious flaws with the “ecocertification” scheme?

I sort of see this as akin to the parent that continually “grounds” their kid (i.e. not allowed out of the house) and yet the kid keeps doing what they’ve been told not to do and the punishment gets more harsh, and so on.

Rather than continuing to increase the punishment – maybe the parent needs to look inward to see if the standards being set for their kid are appropriate and whether their parenting skills are appropriate.

Second, the fact that the Marine Stewardship Council has certified 63 fisheries worldwide (in its ten years of existence) – wait, no, it’s 65 now as they certified two North Pacific cod fisheries the other day – and has another 150 fisheries, or so, in some stage of assessment. That is “rapid growth” and that’s worrisome.

Recently in a trading of  emails with one of the “doctors” on staff with the MSC I was sent quotes from the United Nations “ecocertification” guidelines. If you read the UN guidelines they are pretty fluffy – at best. While looking for the guidelines I figured I would take a look at some of the numbers on world fisheries, as I was curious what percentage of world fisheries the Marine Stewardship Council has been “ecocertified”.

On their website the Marine Stewardship Council suggests that by the end of 2007 they had already ecocertified approximately 7% of world’s edible fisheries.

Yet, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continues to warn — and have been for over a decade — that many fisheries worldwide are in trouble.

In a UN Review of the state of world marine fishery resources from 2005 – the report states that approximately 584 fisheries stocks or species groups are being monitored with some general catch trends available. Of these only 441 (76%) have  stock assessment information sufficient enough to allow some sort of estimate of exploitation. It is in these species that 80% of the worldwide catch comes from.

The remaining 143 stocks do not have good enough information — or in some cases no information at all —  to estimate levels of exploitation and health of the stock. From these come 20% of the world’s catch.

Sadly of these 143 stocks almost 13% of the world’s marine catch comes from some major fish stocks:

for which no proper identification, not even at the family level, is provided in official national statistics, as well as those species that even if properly identified in the official statistics, are not monitored or investigated so as to provide a reliable assessment of their state of exploitation…

…there are some major stocks and fisheries on which information is limited, including… Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) in the northeast Pacific.

Oh, well that’s curious, the Marine Stewardship Council just announced the other day (Jan. 29, 2010) that two Pacific cod fisheries (Gadus macrocephalus) just got ecocertified as: ” independently assessed and found to be sustainable and well managed.”

So… if the Marine Stewardship Council is certifying a fishery (a fishery of over 220,000 tonnes between the two) that the United Nations FAO suggests does not have enough information, or are least not monitored, or has no basis for reliable estimates of exploitation – how many others are their of this nature?

In 2005,  52% of world fish stocks for which there is good enough information to assess — 441 stocks — over 52% of those (230 stocks) were fully exploited, 17% were over exploited (75 stocks), 7% were depleted (31 stocks) and about 5 stocks were ‘recovering’.

If you look at the time scale of these trends – it’s also worrisome.

The “rapid growth” trend is to more “overexploited – depleted – recovering” stocks.

And yet the Marine Stewardship Council is reporting “rapid growth” in fisheries seeking ecocertification.

Does something smell fishy?

In a report last year Net Benefits,  when the  Marine Stewardship Council was at only 42 certified fisheries, CEO Rupert Howes reported that approximately 150 fisheries had applied to MSC representing 7% of global marine catch.

There are now 65 “ecocertified” fisheries and on their website they report 131 global fisheries in some form of assessment.

To put this more into focus – no fishery that enters assessment has ever been turned (to my knowledge). No fishery that gets “ecocertified” has ever had the certification revoked. So fisheries are 65 wins to 0 losses. This is a record any team should be proud of.

Does the law of numbers suggest that it is possible to go to 196 wins to 0 losses?

196 potentially eco-certified fisheries ? Including, most likely,  the recently collapsed Fraser River sockeye, and 90% hatchery produced Skeena River sockeye run (all wild Skeena sockeye stocks are in deep trouble)?

This suggests that the Marine Stewardship Council could potentially “ecocertify” almost 35% of the world’s fish stocks – and 45% of world’s fish stocks for which adequate data exists to determine exploitation.

Nope, no need for concern.

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