Because the world of fisheries is complex and definitions of sustainability vary, over 15 years ago the MSC set out to develop the MSC Fishery Standard in a collaborative process and in consultation with NGOs, scientists and fishery experts around the world. We also work to continue reviewing and updating the standard to ensure it incorporates the very latest in global fisheries best practices.
We can proudly say that MSC is the only certification and ecolabeling program for wild-capture fisheries that meets best practice requirements set by both the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and ISEAL, the global membership association for sustainability standards.
We firmly believe that for our program to deliver real change, we must work with industry on our market-based approach that recognizes and incentivizes positive action without sacrificing our robustness and high bar. Importantly, MSC certification is not a static tool. Certified fisheries are subject to annual audits by an independent assessment team in order to review their performance and ensure any further improvements are being implemented.
MSC certification of the 3Ps cod fishery is good news for the fishery and for cod in 3Ps. It signals to the world that the fishery meets that global high bar of sustainability, and it ensures DFO management of the fishery continues to be robust and current.
The article considers the current total allowable catch as possibly allowing too large a portion of the spawning biomass to be caught. TACs are set according to the DFO Conservation Plan and Rebuilding Strategy for 3Ps cod, which uses a precautionary approach specifically developed to manage and rebuild the 3Ps cod stock and as such provides protection for the reproductive capacity of the stock. The independent certifier confirmed this approach meets the globally accepted, scientifically based MSC Standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries because rebuilding potential is built in and spawning populations are being protected.
The article also raised concerns about where the targets for 3Ps cod are set. To clarify, fisheries managers and scientists (in this case DFO) employ various approaches that use the best available data on catches and scientific surveys to determine fish population levels. Reference points (or sometimes proxies) must also be reflective of the current environmental conditions in the area being assessed.
Reference points (or proxies) resulting from these methods enable fisheries managers to set allowable catches, determining the rate at which fishing can take place in order to remain sustainable.
In the case of 3Ps cod, the independent certifier agreed that the proxy used by DFO as a reference point for the population size in 3Ps meets the MSC Standard and reflects the current understanding of the ocean’s ability to sustain cod, which is different from perhaps the 1980s or earlier when larger cod populations existed.
The reference points for 3Ps cod have, and may continue, to change year-on-year in response to environmental fluctuations. The status of the 3Ps cod stock will be monitored closely throughout the five-year certification of this fishery, and reference points adjusted as necessary. If the cod stock shows a decline, the fishery will need to take action to ensure fish populations increase or risk having its MSC certificate suspended.
The use of a proxy to represent the reference points was further considered by an independent adjudicator during the final objection stage of the MSC assessment.
The independent adjudicator is a legal expert who has experience in fisheries, law, and mediation as well as an understanding of the MSC Fisheries Standard and assessment methodology. It is his/her job to evaluate if the certifier correctly applied the MSC Standard. In the case of 3Ps cod, after further clarifications the independent adjudicator determined the certifier fully adhered to MSC requirements when it accepted DFO’s use of proxy reference points.
MSC certification of 3Ps cod demonstrates the fishery is being well managed by DFO in a way that allows rebuilding to continue. MSC certification can not only help guide the fishery on its journey but can also signal to markets that are keen to see independent perspectives that this fishery takes sustainability seriously.