The possibility that the Fraser sockeye salmon fishery will be certified worries some conservation groups. (Photo: WWSS)
MSC faces official objection for Fraser sockeye certification
Friday, February 12, 2010, 03:50 (GMT + 9)
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced in January its intent to award British Columbia's (BC) controversial Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery with its eco-label.
MSC’s global eco-label programme brands certified fisheries as sustainable. Sustainable stocks generally have healthy populations and the fish are harvested from well-managed fisheries that do not cause significant harm to the marine ecosystem.
Major food retailers in Europe North America have recently committed to or will sell only MSC-certified seafood.
A coalition of BC conservationists filed a notice of objection on Wednesday with MSC's London-based headquarters focusing on the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery, which recently became the subject of a federal judicial inquiry due to a withering population and widespread concerns over mismanagement.
The coalition consists of the David Suzuki Foundation, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
"Scientists have shown that salmon populations in the Fraser River are at very low levels and at risk of extinction," said Dr Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. "It would be highly irresponsible to label these endangered salmon a sustainable choice unless the fisheries management system is improved, overfishing stops and depressed stocks are given a chance to recover."
Notably, MSC has not denied certification to any fishery that has completed its assessment process, and no objection to a certification has ever been upheld.
Some sockeye stocks harvested in the fishery – which MSC plans to certify soon – are actually listed as "endangered" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose team of scientists call overfishing a crucial threat. Last year, the Fraser sockeye population collapsed when only 13 per cent of the expected 10.5 million fish returned to spawn.
Under MSC's third-party certification process, companies are hired by so-called fishing industry clients to determine whether a fishery meets MSC's criteria.
"These companies are doing brisk business by certifying fisheries," said Orr. "But given the state of Fraser sockeye, people should be more concerned about conservation than marketing fish. Our objection focuses on several areas where the third-party certifier has ignored crucial data and awarded passing grades to a fishery which should have failed."
Last week, representatives from these organisations denounced MSC's intent to certify Fraser sockeye at an international seafood summit in Paris and reached out to European seafood buyers, media and conservationists like Greenpeace.
"If this certification goes ahead, European consumers who attempt to make ethical purchasing decisions by choosing MSC certified fish, could end up eating endangered Canadian salmon," said Greg Knox, executive director for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.
"Fraser River sockeye is the latest unsustainable fishery to have applied for certification by the MSC," said Young. "They are now poised to certify the Atlantic longline swordfish fishery as sustainable, despite concerns that it kills endangered turtles and sharks."
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By Natalia Real