Tag Archives: Marine Stewardship Council

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.

solving the mystery of ocean conditions and disappearing salmon

The other day I posted a story about how the U.S. Commerce Secretary announced a “fishery disaster” for the lower portion of the Yukon River in Alaska. This past season there was no commercial fishery, last season (2008) there was a fishery at 90% less than the five-year average – only 4600 Chinook were caught whereas the year previous 33,600 Chinook were caught.

From approximately 1960 – 1997 the average commercially caught Chinook on the Alaskan portion of the Yukon River was 100,000 Chinook per year. The subsistence catch averaged approximately 35,000 – 40,000 Chinook. As mentioned in an earlier post, and in an article I wrote for the Yukon News in 2002, salmon conservation concerns became a major concern around 1997 and some big changes were made — especially when it became clear that approximately 80% of the salmon on the Yukon River spawned in Canada — yet less than a quarter of that (less than 20%) was generally caught in Canada.

It has been a much different picture over the last few years. Similar to Canada, subsistence harvests are given a higher priority than commercial harvests. From 2004 – 2008 the average subsistence harvest has been 51,000 the commercial harvest has been 34,000.

In 2007 the commercial harvest was near the average of 34,000. In 2008 it was just over 4,600 and this past year it was 131. Subsistence numbers from this past season are not in yet.

In less than fifteen years the commercial harvest of Yukon River Chinook has gone from well over 100,000 Chinook caught in Alaska to less than 200.

Curiously, as mentioned in a post the other day. The Marine Stewardship Council has “ecocertified” and “ecolabelled” all Alaskan salmon fisheries – including the Yukon River.

What are some of factors suggested for the Chinook collapse?

Everyone’s most recent favorite is certainly right there – changing ocean conditions. However, I find this one a little difficult to believe in that there are several other fisheries in the neighborhood that are thrumming along like a CN train – for example the entire US #1 fishery.

Seattle Times July 2008

Just out front of the Yukon River in the Bering Sea is the pollock fishery. The Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands pollock fishery is also “ecocertified” by the Marine Stewardship Council as as a “sustainable” “well-managed” fishery. The Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands pollock fishery is also the biggest fishery in the entire United States – generating over $1 billion in processed fish.

How big? The annual quota is 900,000 metric tonnes. If my math is right that’s 900,000,000 kg. These are all caught by trawlers.

If you’re not familiar with trawlers – these are  boats approximately 100 to 150 feet long dragging huge nets. This particular trawl fishery is approximately mid-water, as opposed to bottom trawling where a huge bar drags along the bottom scooping everything into the net and ruining bottom habitat.

Unfortunately, when you drag a huge net through the Bering Sea a heck of a lot of other species hanging out with the pollock – for example Yukon River Chinook salmon – get scooped up as well. When other species are pulled up in these massive nets they are thrown overboard as they are considered “prohibited species”. This is bycatch. The onshore fish processors or mothership processors want pollock only – not salmon or halibut or crab or anything else caught in the nets.

Mothership factory trawler Arctic Storm

However, not to worry – On their website the Marine Stewardship Council, regarding the pollock fishery “environmental impact”, states:

Proportions of bycatch are very low (below 1%). All significant bycatch species (nonpollock groundfish, primarily) are subject to annual scientific assessment. There is extensive regulation to limit bycatch in U.S. North Pacific fisheries. The threatened and endangered Steller sea lion is found in the area of the fishery. Fishery regulations are in place to minimize fishing impacts on sea lions and other protected species.

Salmon bycatch? Chinook tend to swim with pollock and are often caught.

This graph is from the Anchorage Daily News – click it and it will take you to a March 2009 article. This graph shows that the National Marine Fisheries Service reported the pollock trawl fishery caught a high of 121,638 Chinook in 2007, a little under 90,000 in 2006, approximately 65,000 in 2006.

In 2008, the trawl fleet apparently caught significantly less at approximately 27,000. However, that’s five times what the actual Yukon River commercial fishery caught in the same year. The difference being that the 27,000 that the pollock fishery caught were thrown overboard dead…

The five year average for Chinook caught in the trawl fleet is just under 60,000. Other salmon species – a bit more troubling – the record in 2005 was 706,000 other salmon species. This is almost the same number as the entire Fraser River sockeye return this year.

Could you imagine the uproar if it was discovered that 800,000 salmon were caught in a fishery just off the west coast of Vancouver Island – and tossed overboard?

Keep in mind as well that this graph is showing reported bycatch. There are fishery observers on board the trawl fleet reporting bycatch… on board less than 30% of the fleet. Thus, often times the Fisheries Service extrapolates the numbers out from the actual observed numbers. Plus, a massive fishery facing potential closures or severe limitations due to salmon bycatch – would you be accurately reporting salmon bycatch?

“Disappearing” salmon due to ocean conditions?

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…”

The Last Fish Tale…

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Mark Kurlansky’s:

The Last Fish Tale: The fate of the Atlantic and survival in Goucester, America’s Oldest fishing port and most original town.

Kurlansky has written some really interesting books: Salt: A world history; Cod: Biography of the Fish that Changed the World; The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell and some others. All pretty good reads.

The Last Fish Tale is about a disappearing way of life: fishing.

As stated on the book jacket:

The culture of fishing is vanishing, and consequently, coastal societies are changing in unprecedented ways. The once thriving communities of Rockport, Nantucket, Newport, Mystic and many other coastal towns from Newfoundland to Florida and along the West Coast have been forced to abandon their roots and become tourist destinations instead.

Yeah, gee, anyone been to Tofino lately – or how about Ucluelet (fancy condos popping up like gopher heads on a prairie field). Or Prince Rupert working feverishly to get cruise ships into docks. Or even Steveston in Vancouver – more touristy than fishy industrious.

Have you seen Oregon coastal towns, or Northern California over the last decade?

With the disappearance of the logging industry coupled with the disappearance of the fishing industry in the Western States – not much left but tourists (at least when the global economy is thrumming along and not beset with H1NoFun or SARS or other nasty acronym).

Kurlansky has a great little section in the last quarter of the book in a chapter titled: The Fish is in us. He discusses the sometimes uncomfortable alliance between fishermen and environmentalists. Specifically in reference to the community of Gloucester, on the U.S. eastern seaboard, he discusses how some alliances formed between the two – as there was a common goal “of preserving fish stocks” – however the alliances have been shaky at the best of times.

One particular 2006 incident involved a fight over potential for a liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) to be built just offshore from Gloucester. Environmentalists were quite silent on the issue as apparently natural gas is seen as a decent environmental alternative to oil; however, fishermen were furious – not just because of environmental issues, but the fact that the offshore platform would mean an area closed off to fishing.

The fishermen felt that the environmentalists, who had lobbied to have so much taken away from fishermen, owed it to them to keep the energy lobby from taking away their closest fishery.

It seems to fishermen, not completely without reason, that environmentalists are insensitive to their sacrifice. The fishermen accepted the need for fishery management and submitted to endless waves of regulations and restrictions to their ability to earn a living. But environmentalists have often characterized fishermen in ways that are unfair and, to them deeply insulting… [such as] overseers in a slaughterhouse for wild animals.

Fishermen have tried hard to avoid a slaughterhouse, and they have done all the sacrificing. What have environmentalists sacrificed to save the seas?

Kurlansky explains how in 2000 many environmental groups sued the federal government over apparent mis-management of fish stocks. “Gloucester fishermen responded by demonstrating in the harbor with large signs that read, ‘Out of work and hungry? Eat an environmentalist.'”

The more fishermen suffer, the more money environmentalists raise for themselves. When the question is asked, “What can out-of-work fisherman do?” fishermen have been known to reply, “Become a regulator; that is the growth industry.”…

Fishery regulation is a growth industry. Fishing is not.

Apparently, fisheries certification is too… a rough count suggests the Marine Stewardship Council has over 60 staff worldwide (at least listed on their website). Add in other certification schemes (Suzuki Foundation, Monterrey Aquarium, etc.) independent certifiers, scientists, support staff, industry liaisons – and, wow, can you say growth…? Unlike fish stocks.

If you read my earlier posts – or are familiar – with world fisheries. In 1979, over 70 million tonnes of fish were caught by world fisheries – and this was deemed unsustainable by the mid-1980s United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development – the Bruntland Commission.

Yet, in 2005 world fisheries caught over 141 million tonnes – with 80% of these focussed in developing countries seas (and largely not caught by developing nations fisherfolks).

So, one might ask, are well-funded environmentalists, and fisheries certification schemes making a difference?

how tough was testing for your driver’s certification?

There is a certification scheme for one of the top killers in North America. It’s called a driver’s license. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia states on their website: “Not only are new drivers more prone to crash, one in four of their crashes result in an injury or fatality.”

Furthermore, there are best practices, benchmarks, guidelines, frameworks and even laws suggesting drinking alcohol and driving are not the best combination – yet in Canada approximately 35% of car crash deaths are alcohol related.

What is a speed limit?

It’s like a “best practice” for the road conditions presented – for example lots of little kids running around on their way to and from school – maybe 30 km/hr would be the best practice for these areas. Trans Canada open highway across the prairies – well – speed limits are more like a target benchmark and as most of us assume we’re allowed a little leeway either way. Often 10% to 15% – if the speed limit is 100 km/hr generally cops will give you 110 km/hr or maybe even 115 km/hr.

Once you have your driver’s certification – you have to work very hard to lose it – unless you are caught driving drunk or you’re caught over the benchmarks and best practices on many occassions. (but then hire a good lawyer and maybe you get away clean…)

With all of the benchmarks, best practices, and laws – do people still speed? Do people still drive drunk?

Is there any further testing – say every five years after you first get your license? No. Well not at least not until you are a much more seasoned driver.

I carry a little card that suggests I am certified to drive; however,  my test to get that certification was pretty darn lax. My driving test was done on Haida Gwaii – islands six hours by ferry off the coast of British Columbia. The driver’s test examiner would come about once every six weeks from the mainland and we had to book well in advance.

For my test, we drove around looking for a spot to try and “parallel park” the dreaded test within the test. We used a telephone pole (as a pretend car)  and the only car parked on the side of the road for about a kilometre each way. Funnily enough, he tested me on my reversing skills in the exact same spot: “ok… you’ve parallel parked, now back up about 30 metres…”

I think the only thing I lost points on during the test was using my palm for a big turn instead of hand over hand… I didn’t tell the examiner that my brother and I used to “drive” our 1950s Ford pickup around our field when we were kids. My brother would steer and I would be on the floor on the pedals…. I think only the “go” pedal worked anyways.

Within a few months of getting my driver’s license ( I was 19)  I was driving into downtown Vancouver along the Trans Canada highway; within less than a year I had bought my own truck. Do you think other drivers  felt safe, knowing I was certified? Do you feel safe when you see a car with a little green “N” blow by you on the freeway with the young driver texting on their cell phone? (not to say there aren’t some good young drivers out there)

Of course, things have changed a little since I received my license, however I don’t know if the testing is still much different back where I grew up – but at least there’s “graduated licensing” in British Columbia now.

That’s kind of like a “conditional” license. Does that make it safer, or better?

And thus, to draw my analogy…. Does “ecocertification” and “ecolabelling” actually mean that something is actually “eco” – i.e sustainable?

Do you feel much better filling up at a Husky gas station (or is it Mohawk): “Mother Nature’s station”?

When I see a product on the shelf, or in the freezer with a little sticker or logo am I going to reach for it over the product without?

In the case of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – probably not now after doing some consumer research – however, many folks may very well. Kind of like the pragmatic folks who buy Volvo’s based on their safety claims – yet if you’re a crappy driver, the safest vehicle ain’t going to help you much in a meeting with a telephone pole, or another vehicle.

Unfortunately, the history of Fisheries and Oceans the “driver” of fisheries management in Canada – their driving record ain’t all that good (they kind of had a head on with North Atlantic cod…. and the cod lost). It was a serious case of drinking and driving (and they certainly didn’t have an airbag – oh wait, who was the Minister of Fisheries then?) – and yet they weren’t sent to mandatory counseling, or testing, or even rebuked by a judge. They just said “gee… we don’t do it like that anymore…”.

And in the case of the MSC – sure they’ve got Fisheries and Oceans on a “graduated” conditional certification scheme for BC sockeye fisheries – some 40 conditions and a “five year action plan”. But similar to driver’s; once you’re certified, it’s pretty damn tough to lose your certification – even if the testing for your certification was pretty lax and maybe even conducted with gaping voids like not having to really parallel park.

With MSC – I don’t think anyone has lost their eco-license in the organization’s ten year eco-history.

how good is your spin? and how good is your bladder control?

There appears to be a bit of…. well… what some might refer to as a “pissing match” going on in relation to some Pacific salmon populations – specifically B.C. sockeye. Involved in this urinary fracas are the Marine Stewardship Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Marine Stewardship Council, if you have had a chance to read earlier posts on this site, is an organization created by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever (one of the world’s largest seafood suppliers) in the late 1990s – last year was their tenth anniversary.

They state on their website:

We are a global organisation working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood.

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

The Pacific Salmon Commission was: “Established by treaty [Pacific Salmon Treaty signed in 1985] between Canada and the United States for the conservation, rational management, and optimum production of Pacific Salmon.” Basically, the treaty was signed because of a lot of bickering over the years about who was intercepting who’s salmon.

The fundamental role of the Pacific Salmon Commission is two-fold:

  1. first, to conserve the Pacific Salmon in order to achieve optimum production,
  2. second, to divide the harvests so that each country reaps the benefits of its investment in salmon management.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): “helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.” The organization was formed in 1948 and:

is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network – a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.

The urinary fracas – you might ask?

In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added Pacific sockeye salmon to its Global Red List of Threatened Species with BC sockeye as the most endangered.

In a press release regarding the IUCN listings, the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center summarized some of the findings in October 2008.

In their assessment, the IUCN Salmonid Specialist Group found that a total of 80 subpopulations of sockeye species existed in recent history[around the Pacific Rim]. The report documents that five have gone extinct.

The majority of threatened subpopulations are in British Columbia, according to the Salmonid Specialist Group, which prepared the IUCN Assessment. Subpopulations at risk include those in sections of the Fraser and Skeena Rivers, as well as smaller rivers in the southern coast of the province. Many have experienced steep declines, with runs in some areas declining by more than 80 percent in the last three generations (or twelve years). Several of the runs were listed as critically endangered.

It is suggested that the assessment prepared by the IUCN Salmonid Specialist Group: “is based on the largest collection of data ever assembled on salmon abundance, coming from 243 spawning locations across the Pacific Rim. Data were obtained from universities, and federal, state, provincial, and indigenous groups in Canada, Russia, and the United States.”

In yesterday’s opinion editorial in The Tyee (a BC independent online magazine), the Marine Stewardship Council’s Regional Director for the Americas – Kerry Coughlin – took some length to defend the Council’s recent decision to eco-certify BC sockeye fisheries. Or at least, give it a “determination”, which is now in a 15-day objection period – after nine years of assessment (i.e. almost as long as the MSC’s existence).

Ms. Coughlin highlights the fact that the MSC took the International Union for Conservation of Nature listings into consideration while undertaking their “eco-certification” assessment. She states: “In regard to the IUCN red-listing B.C. sockeye, however, the scope and approach of the methodology used is different from MSC’s.”

No disrespect intended Ms. Coughlin – but do you think so?

No kidding the methodology is different.

As the IUCN states:

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies species according to their extinction risk. Its primary goal is to identify and document species most in need of conservation and provide an index on the state of global biodiversity.

Whereas, the MSC’s stated Mission is:

to use our ecolabel and fishery certification programme to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practises, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. (my emphasis)

These are two completely, entirely different purposes, outlooks, and modus operandi.

The IUCN looks at things from a numbers perspective in terms of extinction risks and conservation for the sake of a species and ecosystem.

The MSC is entirely focussed on human fisheries, human choices, and human markets.

I hope there’s a fricking different “methodology” .

To be fair Ms. Coughlin mentions some of the differences,  then points to the MSC certifiers’ report where the differences between the two programs are discussed.

In the MSC report – Final Certification Report Volume 1 – on page 83 of 211 is a two page attempt at an explanation as to why the IUCN listings were not really considered. The report points to objections from the Pacific Salmon Commission regarding the initial IUCN listings of endangered sockeye.

The Pacific Salmon Commission had a press release in November 2008 regarding the IUCN Assessment of Fraser River sockeye. Reading through the nine page objection to IUCN’s endangered sockeye labeling the Commission actually agrees with some of the IUCN findings for example:

The endangered status of Cultus sockeye is well known as assessed by COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada – Federal Government] and multiple actions are being taken to assist with population recovery…

The Pacific Salmon Committee objections in regards to Cultus sockeye (lower Fraser River population) and with some of the other Fraser River populations was how the populations were aggregated by the IUCN – not that the populations are not in deep shit. They are in deep shit – as the Pacific Salmon Commission agreed with.

The main gist of the Pacific Salmon Committee objections was with the “three generation” (12 years) assessment model utilized by IUCN to arrive at their conclusions. The Commission suggests that:

The years 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 were each years of maximum total returns for their respective cycles over the 50 yr data set.

Those years of higher returns, they suggest, skewed the IUCN numbers so that it appears that in the first life cycle of their assessment runs were high – and then by the third life cycle were 80% lower in some cases.

Ok, fine. Sure, maybe there were some higher returns in the early nineties – according the the “50-yr dataset” – as “comprehensive data have been collected on escapement and returns” [i.e. spawners] since 1948. And, yes, maybe the IUCN assessment showed some dramatic declines as compared to the 50 year dataset.

However, what about the last 100 years, or 200 years?

As I have mentioned in several posts this past week (Once Upon a Salmon) – in 1902 the Minster of Fisheries reported over 30 million sockeye were canned on the Fraser River and 30 million more could have been canned if the hatcheries had had the capacity.

Sure the early 1990s had some decent runs – but a frigging long ways off what might be considered “maximum total returns” if we start looking at 100 years, or 150 years, or 200 years.

I might point out another slight gaping void Ms. Coughlin and MSC and independent certifying agencies:

The 9-page Pacific Salmon Commission objection to IUCN listings mentions nothing about Skeena sockeye, which are included in the MSC eco-certification of BC sockeye fisheries. The two pages of the MSC report dealing with the IUCN listings also mentions nothing about Skeena sockeye.

I lived in the Skeena watershed for five years – on the Bulkley River. There used to be a lot of sockeye that would migrate right past the farm I lived on – not while I was there, but in years past. Those sockeye spawned and reared as little gaffers in the Morice River and  Morice Lake. The Wet’suwet’en House groups of the area relied on these returns for a very, very long time. Now they catch next to none – the run has been decimated.

So, unfortunately, the peeing continues – however it’s being done with great spin.

I don’t necessarily side with one of the urinary participants over another (although the IUCN never engaged in much defence, they just left the assessments stand for themselves) – however, I do have a slight inclination towards the organization that has been around since 1948, has over 1000 organizations and scientists from over 160 countries around the world and incorporates indigenous knowledge into their assessments – over an organization that has been around for 11 years, was formed by a multi-national corporation and multi-national charitable organization and had three meetings with three First Nations over a 9-year period with something so culturally and communally important as sockeye.

Then hires professional spin artists to “sell” eco-certification. And the unfortunate thing is that the MSC may very well have done legitimate assessments on the other over 60 fisheries they have “eco-certified” in the last ten years of their existence. Maybe there are fisherfolks around the world benefiting from this “eco-certification” – unfortunately in the case of BC sockeye it seems to be a spin-machine hard at work which, in turn, spawn pissing matches.

The Pacific Salmon Commission, I am sure has great folks and does good work. I had the pleasure of brief involvement with the Yukon River portion of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and met some great folks working hard for salmon on the Yukon River Panel. However, the PSC has been around for about 25 years and has a strict modus operandi: optimum production and “reaping benefits of investment” from salmon harvests.

Hopefully, somewhere along the line we all realize we’re peeing in the same river, which runs out to the same ocean.

I’m sorry Marine Stewardship Council but your “Principles” may have some flaws…

Apologies to those of you who might be a bit tired of reading my posts on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, I must say, that it is “eco-labeling” (MSC’s own words) such as this program that point to some of the issues in fisheries worldwide.

Today, Kerry Coughlin the Marine Stewardship Council’s “Regional Director for the Americas” wrote an editorial for The Tyee a British Columbia-based “independent daily online magazine.” The article is a defence of the Marine Stewardship Council and it’s recent decision to certify B.C.’s sockeye fisheries.

The article dovetails with emails I have received from the MSC over the past week or so. I received the emails – that basically defend the MSC and their processes – after I sent them links to this site, specifically, Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 3 for the MSC that I proposed a little over a week ago.

Again, as mentioned in previous posts, I’m not trying to be a jerk – or intending disrespect to the organization and individuals involved, nor the sixty-three fisheries that have been “eco-certified” by the MSC (in just over 10 years). I haven’t spent, or had, the time to read through the thousands upon thousands of pages that accompany these “eco-certifications” so can’t yet suggest a completely flawed process.

I have spent some time, though, trying to wade through the BC sockeye fishery certification at well over 500 pages.

I’ve also recently been reading the “MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing” . These are the central core tenets of the organization and the sixty-three fisheries worldwide the MSC has certified as “sustainable” in the last decade since the organization was created by the World Wildlife Fund and multinational corporation Unilever (one of the world’s largest sellers of seafood).

I had some interest in these Principles, because as you may have read in my post from the other day quoting the Bruntland Report from the 1980s:

In 1979, the stats used for the report, total volume of fish captured (wild fisheries and aquaculture) in the world’s oceans was more than 70 million tons.

The report stated:

With conventional management practices, the growth era of fisheries is over.

[Yet] the world fishery has doubled since 1979 from 70 million to over 141 million tons captured in 2005…

So, personally, the words “sustainable” and “fisheries” can sometimes begin to ring oxymoron-ish – especially industrial-scale fisheries. It’s not to say that sustainable industrial fisheries may not be possible; and really at some point they will truly have to be and at one time in the past they were. However, a fishery is a fishery – and most everything in the ocean is connected (and beyond) – take a whale, impact a krill; take a shark, impact a pilot fish; take a salmon, impact a bear (oh wait, that’s not the ocean… point made).

(what’s the old saying? give a man a fish feed him for a day, give him a net…and watch him fish the crap out of the sea…)

Marine Stewardship Council Principle 1:

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.

Hold on a second. If one reads for the literal meaning of this entire sentence – it is one long contradiction. A “fishery” means one thing – killing fish. If one is killing humans, one is depleting a population. If one is killing fish – this is depletion.

I suppose the important point here is: “over-fishing”.

This is where things get sticky and complex. As with anything who gets to define and determine the “over”?

If a population is depleted – then it must be fished in such a way that “leads to recovery”? These are diametrically opposed ideas, and are they not fundamentally opposed to the idea of “sustainable”?

If a population is “depleted” killing any more of it is not “sustainable”? Even in the most skewed definitions of the word…

I am all ears if there are examples out there of “depleted populations” being harvested in such a way that leads to population “recovery”. My guess is that realistic economic returns and depleted populations being harvested are not two things that exist in the same sentence (other than the one you just read).

If you have had an opportunity to read my earlier post Once upon a salmon – and I recognize I’ve raised this in a few posts this past week; however these are stunning numbers – in 1902 the Canadian Minister of Fisheries reported that over 30 million Fraser River sockeye were canned that year and that 30 million more sockeye could have been canned if the canneries had had the capacity. (And remember this is just canned sockeye, this doesn’t include fresh sold, Aboriginal fisheries, and whatever other fisheries).

So, MSC, and independent scientific review board, and independent certifying body, and Ms. Coughlin – you all rightfully recognize that there are some issues with Fraser sockeye (and I might add the other three sockeye river fisheries included in this eco-certification), such as listings as endangered species for some stocks, and a judicial inquiry, and the case of only a little over 1 million sockeye showing up this past season – what sort of numbers are we suggesting for these particular “populations that are depleted” and what sort of “fishery [will] be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery”?

And are we talking 1902 numbers of “recovery” – or 1850 numbers of “recovery” – or 1491 numbers of “recovery”?

I suppose catching one sockeye a year is still considered a “fishery”….

Concluding thought:

In British Columbia, a significant number of First Nation communities depend on sockeye fisheries and have for thousands and thousands of years – and somehow these Nations looked after those runs sustainably.


Sockeye from large hatchery runs (or the rare healthy run) are trucked on highways (right beside the rivers that once hosted the salmon runs) to other First Nation communities that have no sockeye runs anymore.

My experience in B.C. First Nation communities – sockeye are not about “fisheries” – sockeye are life.

On Haida Gwaii where I grew up – I fished a particular river a lot growing up. The name of that river is the Yakoun River. The river runs up the heart of the northernmost island. As far as I have been told, “Yakoun” means River of Life in Haida.

"Yakoun Lake Schematic" by Simon Davies

I’m guessing the once strong run of sockeye – one of the few on Haida Gwaii – is the reason the name was given in the first place…

Number of First Nations meaningfully consulted in this 9-year MSC process – that apparently investigates and certifies sustainable fisheries?


And that’s three in a series of three meetings one summer quite a few years ago.

Number of First Nations dependent on annual sockeye returns on just the Fraser River alone:

Approximately 50.