MALDIVES - A recent independent audit of the Maldives pole and line skipjack tuna fishery has determined the fishery continues to meet the high bar set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and will maintain its MSC certificate. However, the audit found the yellowfin tuna segment of the pole and line fishery to be overfished and, as a result, its MSC certification has been suspended.
All MSC certified fisheries are required to undertake annual audits to ensure their continued compliance with the MSC Standard. During the recent Maldives pole & line fishery audit, the assessment team of the independent certification body, DNV-GL, considered all new information, including Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) stock assessments, the MSC’s interpretation of Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) and all recent Independent Adjudicator (IA) objection decisions.
Healthy Skipjack Population
DNV-GL found that populations of skipjack tuna in the Indian Ocean are currently healthy. DNV-GL’s findings reflect the IOTC Scientific Committee’s latest assessment for skipjack tuna (PDF) which determined the stock to be neither overfished, nor subject to overfishing.
DNV-GL also considered whether the fishery continues to meet the MSC’s requirements for Harvest Control Rules (HCRs). DNV-GL found that HCRs are ‘available’ within the IOTC management framework for skipjack, as required by the MSC Standard to achieve a passing score (SG60) level for HCRs. ‘Available’ HCRs can be used to score at the MSC’s pass level in cases where the target stock is historically abundant and predicted to remain so, and where the management body has HCRs in place on another stock under its jurisdiction or has an agreement or timeline in place for the development and implementation of HCRs.
IOTC to Consider Skipjack HCR Plan
The IOTC, an intergovernmental organisation responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean, has requested through their Scientific Committee the development and evaluation of HCRs for IOTC species and for a candidate HCR for skipjack to be presented at this year’s Commission meeting, to be held in La Reunion, France in May 2016. The Maldives and other co-signatories will be presenting the skipjack HCR proposal at this upcoming meeting.
“We urge the IOTC to adopt a well-defined HCR for skipjack while stocks are healthy. The measure will enable managers to act swiftly to ensure the health of the resource and long-term profitability of the fishery. Compared to the other tuna species in the Indian Ocean, the work on a skipjack HCR is significantly advanced, so this is the logical species for the IOTC’s first HCR,” said John Burton, Chairman of the International Pole & Line Foundation.
During the recent surveillance audit, DNV-GL also determined that the skipjack fishery is making very good progress against the conditions of certification with six out of the eight requested improvements to be addressed now closed. These include the Maldivian fishery developing a live bait management plan that reduces the risk of Maldives wide and local depletion, collecting sufficient data to manage impacts on Endangered, Threatened and Protected species and the development of effective Monitoring, Control and Surveillance mechanisms.
Of the remaining two, the condition related to HCRs is on target while the condition on limit and target reference points is partly behind schedule but expected to be progressed at the meeting in May.
“The MSC commends the fishery’s continued improvements and management effectiveness, and acknowledges their wider efforts to support sustainability in the Indian Ocean,” said Jim Humphreys, MSC Global Fisheries Coordinator. “We encourage the IOTC to adopt the necessary measures needed to safeguard tuna stocks now and for the future.”
Certificate Suspended for Pole and Line Yellowfin Tuna
Certifier DNV-GL suspended the MSC certificate for the yellowfin component of the Maldives pole & line skipjack and yellowfin tuna fishery. The suspension was effective from April 15, 2016. As a result, any yellowfin harvested by this fishery from this date cannot be sold as MSC certified or carry the MSC ecolabel.
Yellowfin Stocks in Decline
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Scientific Committee recently released its assessment for the yellowfin tuna stock which showed significant declines as a result of overfishing and relatively low reproduction levels. The stock is targeted by a large number of countries fishing in the Indian Ocean.
The IOTC reported that the substantial increase in longline, gillnet, handline and purse seine fishing effort, and associated catches in recent years, has substantially increased the pressure on the Indian Ocean stock as a whole, with recent fishing exceeding the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) related levels.
“Healthy tuna populations are essential for both the wider marine environment and fishing economies. The MSC Fisheries Standard therefore requires that MSC certified fisheries are targeting healthy or recovering stocks that are well-managed,” said Dr Adrian Gutteridge, Fisheries Assessment Manager at the MSC.
MSC certification requires annual surveillance audits for all certified fisheries. During the Maldives pole & line fishery audit, DNV-GL’s assessment team reviewed the latest scientific data and concluded that the stock no longer meets the MSC Standard’s requirements for stock health, and the certificate for yellowfin tuna is therefore suspended.
“We consider this suspension to be appropriate action in order to safeguard yellowfin tuna populations within the Indian Ocean and to support positive change in the way our oceans are managed. We encourage the IOTC to adopt measures needed to ensure effective management of all fisheries under its responsibility,” added Dr Gutteridge.
Yellowfin tuna caught by the Maldives pole and line fishery that were harvested before the date of suspension and are currently in the supply chain are still eligible to be sold as “MSC certified” or with the ecolabel in accordance with MSC Chain of Custody requirements.
Due to the suspension, the fishery client now has 90 days in which to produce a corrective action plan which addresses the cause of the suspension. If this action plan is produced and is confirmed by the certifier, the yellowfin component of the fishery will then remain suspended until there is evidence for recovery in yellowfin stocks. If the fishery fails to produce an action plan in the time allowed, its MSC certificate will be withdrawn.
TheFishSite News Desk