Yellowfin tuna ISSF image - credit Fabien Forget

Source: ISSF

A lack of agreement on harvest strategies by Pacific states could soon lead to suspension from the MSC’s sustainable fishing certification

The Marine Stewardship Council has warned the long-term future of certified fisheries in the Western Central Pacific remains “in the balance” after the latest round of talks on the issue ended in deadlock.

The MSC said critical intergovernmental negotiations ended “without the necessary progress to ensure long-term sustainable tuna fishing in the Western Central Pacific” last week at the annual meeting of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

All 28 MSC-certified tuna fisheries in the WCPO have time-bound conditions of certification that require the adoption of harvest strategies by June 2023. However, 22 of those now faced an “increasing” risk of suspension of their MSC certification, due to their failure to do so, the NGO said.

Harvest strategies – which ensure the long-term management of stocks – act as a ‘safety net’ if currently healthy fish stocks begin to decline. They are described as “fundamental to sound fisheries management”, and “critical to future health of the stocks”, especially for highly migratory species like tuna, which span geopolitical boundaries.

But after months of disagreements, the MSC bemoaned the lack of progress at last week’s WCPFC meeting.

Negotiations on harvest strategies were postponed until December 2022 for skipjack and South Pacific albacore, and until 2024 for yellowfin and bigeye.

As a result, ongoing certification of skipjack and albacore beyond June 2023 was still possible, but would now be dependent upon agreement and adoption of harvest strategies at a meeting planned for next December, the MSC said.

And given the delay until 2024 for the WCPFC to adopt new harvest strategies for yellowfin and bigeye tuna, it was now “increasingly likely fisheries with certificates for these stocks will face suspension by their auditors in June 2023”, the NGO warned.

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The slow progress would be “particularly disappointing” for retailers, brands and other supply chain companies that had committed to source tuna that met the highest standards for environmental performance, the MSC added.

It follows the publication of an open letter to the WCPFC in October from 112 companies to demand they accelerate action to develop comprehensive harvest strategies across all tuna stocks. The calls were supported by the Global Tuna Alliance, an independent group of retailers and tuna supply chain companies, responsible for tuna purchases worth $1.27bn in 2020.

Tuna from the WCPO makes up over half of the global commercial tuna catch, making the stocks the world’s most commercially important.

Currently, some 85% of all MSC-certified tuna caught comes from the WCPO, while 78% of the MSC-certified tuna caught in the WCPO is skipjack.

In order to avoid the suspension of certification, the MSC said the WCPFC now needed to “make concrete progress towards the adoption of harvest strategies” at a newly scheduled science management meeting in August and regular science and technical compliance committee meetings, and “agree and adopt harvest strategies at its next full meeting in December 2022”.

The outcome of last week’s WCPFC meeting was “disappointing for the fisheries, retailers, brands and supply chain companies which have worked so hard to achieve and support the high level of sustainability required for MSC certification”, said MSC CEO Rupert Howes.

“The unprecedented support for these fisheries to maintain their current MSC certifications from supermarkets and tuna brands from around the world demonstrates the growing market demand for and commitment to continue to source sustainable seafood despite the economic pressures and impacts of the current pandemic.”