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British Columbia sockeye fishery certification is strongly criticised by environmentalists. (Photo: Stock File/ FIS

MSC criticised for sockeye certification

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Friday, January 22, 2010, 21:40 (GMT + 9)

British Columbia's sockeye fishery – including the troubled Fraser River run – is about to get international certification as a sustainable fishery from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) .

The decision by the MSC to certify the fishery has led to harsh criticism in British Columbia with environmental groups saying the eco-labelling program has lost its credibility, reports The Globe and Mail.

Bruce Hill, co-ordinator of The Headwaters Initiative, a group working to preserve rivers in British Columbia, said sockeye stocks in both the Fraser and Skeena are in decline and it would be “absurd” to certify the fisheries as sustainable.

“If they continue with what they are doing and certify the Skeena and the Fraser it's nothing more than eco-fraud and green washing,” said Hill.

Hill also said that the MSC program has become more of a marketing tool than a way to promote sustainable fisheries and that environmental groups should look at finding alternative certification systems to support.

Last autumn in the Fraser, only about 1 million fish returned, instead of the 10.6 million expected. That dramatic shortfall led to fishery closures and convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to order a judicial inquiry.

Jeffrey Young, Aquatic Biologist at the David Suzuki Foundation, said that “the Fraser fishery continues to threaten endangered sockeye and there isn't really an overall rebuilding plan . . . we think certification should at least be withheld until the results of the judicial inquiry are provided and COSEWIC... completes its review.”

“In the past we've supported some MSC certifications and we're hopeful to do that again in the future. But... if this kind of trend continues, of certifying clearly unsustainable fisheries... it will significantly diminish the value of the MSC,” said Young.

Kerry Coughlin, the MSC Regional Director for the Americas, said the organization felt it wasn't necessary to wait for the results of the judicial inquiry, or for the COSEWIC study, because any findings could be considered later.

“There is always data coming in... and our system is set up to take that into account, but at some point, if you continue to hold for more data and more data it becomes completely endless,” she said.

Coughlin said the MSC process assesses how a fishery is managed, not at how stocks vary from year to year. The closure of all fishing on the Fraser last year was a sign of appropriate management. In an unsustainable fishery, she said, fishing would have been allowed to continue, she said.

Related article:

- Missing salmon stocks to be probed: PM

By Michel Loubet


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