In an 20 August 2010 editorial (“Pew's email campaign misleading: MSC”) Natalia Real (article composer in FIS.com's World News section) relays concerns raised by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) about the Pew Environment Group (PEG). Those concerns, about our characterization of and participation in the assessment of the swordfish and tuna fisheries off the east coast of Florida, deserve a response on two levels, i.e., whether the fishery should be certified and how PEG has participated in the certification process.
With regard to whether fisheries for swordfish, yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna off the east coast of Florida should be certified as sustainable, PEG provided the certification contractor, MRAG Americas, with extensive evidence of the ecosystem impacts of this fishery, consistent with MSC’s certification principles.
In a letter accompanied by extensive supporting materials, we documented that the surface longline portion of this fishery catches a large number of non-target ocean wildlife, including bluefin tuna, sandbar sharks, loggerhead sea turtles and blue marlin. In addition, large numbers of target species, such as swordfish, are discarded dead because of size restrictions created to allow small fish to reach sexual maturity. In 2005, the most recent data that was available to us, this fishery discarded 32 per cent of the swordfish caught and 70 per cent of those were dead.
Given that many of these non-target species are already in very bad shape and that surface longlines also waste target species, we do not believe that this fishery should be certified as sustainable and we urged MRAG Americas, the certification contractor, to deny certification of this part of the fishery.
The second fishery being assessed is one that uses buoy gear to catch swordfish. Because buoy gear is far more selective than surface longline gear, the catch is dominated by the target species. There is little to no bycatch of marlin, sailfish and sea turtles and there is low discard mortality. For instance, in 2007 and 2008, the target species - swordfish - accounted for 95 per cent of the catch. 40 per cent were discarded due to size restrictions and 92 per cent of those discarded fish were released alive.
In short, this fishery has far fewer ecosystem impacts than surface longlining. Moreover, these gears operate in two distinct geographic areas and timeframes. Buoy gear operates closer to shore in an area closed to surface longlines and for much less of the year. For these reasons, we believe that the buoy gear portion of the fishery is distinct and, therefore, we asked MRAG Americas to separate the swordfish assessment into two parts, one for surface longlines and one for buoy gear.
MSC should be using its label to promote fishermen that voluntarily switch to more sustainable gear - and the buoy portion of the fishery could be an excellent example of that approach in action.
As Ms. Real notes in her editorial, the MSC has expressed several concerns with PEG’s participation in the assessment process that are misplaced. For instance, in a letter to me, the MSC states, “the assessment of the fishery is independent of the MSC - the MSC doesn't take part in the scoring and determination of a fishery assessment.” In fact, MSC developed the entire assessment process and the criteria used for the assessment. Moreover, after a fishery is certified, it is eligible to display the MSC label, not the logo of the company that conducted the assessment, in this case MRAG Americas. To use a sports analogy, the fishery applying for and paying for certification plays the entire game on the MSC’s field, using the MSC’s ball, the MSC’s rules, in order to receive the MSC’s prize. The MSC is clearly not a disinterested third party.
Also, contrary to the MSC and Ms. Real’s assertion, Pew did not identify Dr. Bob Trumble, the lead auditor, as affiliated with the MSC instead of MRAG Americas, the company conducting the assessment. Rather, we sent a message to our supporters urging them to comment on the assessment. Because Dr. Trumble was listed as the point of contact by the MSC on its website, we collected these approximately 7,000 messages and, to avoid jamming Dr. Trumble’s email system, presented them to him on a CD at the stakeholder meeting on 11 and 12 August.
Following the MSC’s own guidelines for stakeholder participation, two of our staff members attended the Miami stakeholder meeting and provided input to MRAG Americas’ assessment team. This included a report commissioned by Pew with pertinent data and peer-reviewed science, a comment letter from me, comments from our supporters and oral comments throughout the meeting. Contrary to the assertions of the MSC, as reported by Ms. Real, PEG has assiduously followed the MSC rules for commenting on an assessment.
The science clearly indicates that certifying longlining off the Florida East Coast will harm both the long-term viability of the target species and pose serious bycatch threats to other ocean wildlife. We think the MSC can and should do better.