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Hoki fishery doesn't deserve its "sustainability tick"

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An independent panel of international fisheries experts agrees that the New Zealand hoki fishery does not merit the “sustainability tick” it has been awarded today. However, because of the procedures the Panel was operating under they were unable to stop the fishery being certified as “sustainable”.

Forest & Bird and WWF-NZ lodged objections to the fishery being recertified arguing that the fishery is unsustainable and in danger of collapse.

Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says the certification by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which was set up to support sustainable fisheries, is fatally flawed and sends the wrong message to fishing companies world wide.

Kevin Hackwell says the hoki fishery is unsustainable on a number of counts.

“Hoki stocks have dramatically collapsed. Since 2001, when the fishery was first certified, the hoki catch has fallen from 250,000 tonnes a year to 100,000 tonnes – a 60% reduction. This year the hoki quota looks likely to be further reduced in response to sustainability concerns. ”

“The fishery lacks a fish stock recovery plan, which is required under the MSC’s own rules. It also causes serious damage to the seabed by bottom trawling and routinely kills hundreds of seabirds and marine mammals as by-catch every year”, Kevin Hackwell says.

The Independent Objections Panel found itself in disagreement with the certification body in relation to the scores awarded to the fishery. The Panel says:

“… there are several instances ... where the Panel found itself in disagreement with the Certification Body in relation to the scores awarded. In each case, the Panel members would have taken a more conservative approach an would have awarded a lower score. In the circumstances of this particular certification process which received an overall passing score “by the skin of its teeth”, a lower score on almost any indicator would have resulted in a failure to recommend certification. Taking a holistic view to the overall state of the hoki fishery, the panel sees some validity to the objectors’ position that this is not a fishery that should be certified as sustainable.”

“The decision which the Independent Objections Panel found itself forced to make, is deeply disappointing. This decision makes a mockery of the MSC’s rules when a fishery can be approved as sustainable yet it clearly does not meet the environmental standards set down by those rules.”

The decision allows New Zealand hoki to retain the MSC’s logo, identifying it as being caught in a sustainable fishery, providing greater access to international markets and commanding a higher price.

“Recertification of the hoki fishery as sustainable means consumers around the world can have no faith in MSC certification, which is meant to guide them in their fish buying choices.”

“MSC procedures appear to have put short-term interests ahead of the goal of protecting fishing resources for future generations.”

        Notes

  • Hoki ranked in the bottom 10 of New Zealand’s 68 commercial fisheries assessed in Forest and Bird’s Best Fish Guide.
  • Page 95 & 96 of Final Report

       6. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION 
There are clearly a number of issues of legitimate and very real concern relating to the sustainability of the New Zealand hoki fishery. Foremost amongst these are the lack of clear understanding of current fishing mortality and consequent concern as to whether the stock is presently being overfished; possible unacceptable levels of bycatch; and the potential for unacceptable seafloor impact. Each of these issues has rightly been identified in the grounds for further objection. The Panel has considered each of the further objections raised in detail and within the mandate ascribed to it by the MSC procedures and terms of reference for objections panels. As has been repeated several times throughout this report, the mandate of the Panel requires it to consider procedural and merits grounds in relation to specific points of the Certification Body’s findings. In no sense is the Panel to substitute its own views and opinions for that of the Certification Body. It will be apparent from this report that there are several instances, in particular in relation to Performance Indicators 1.1.5.2, 2.2.2.1 and 2.2.3.1, where the Panel found itself in disagreement with the Certification Body in relation to the scores awarded. In each case, the Panel members would have taken a more conservative approach and awarded a lower score. In the circumstances of this particular certification process, which received an overall passing score “by the skin of its teeth”, a lower score on almost any indicator would have resulted in a failure to recommend certification. Taking a holistic view to the overall state of the hoki fishery, the Panel sees some validity to the objectors’ position that this is not a fishery that should be certified as sustainable. Nevertheless, in relation to each specific point of objection, the Panel takes the view that the value judgments and decisions by the Certification Body cannot be described as arbitrary or unreasonable and, taken individually, are within the bounds of reasonableness.

At the same time, however, the Panel would again make the point that the assessments made by the Certification Body, particularly in relation to the critical PI 1.1.5.2 on the level of current fishing mortality are based on what the Panel perceives as highly optimistic assumptions as to recruitment levels. The slightest deviation from these assumptions could mean that hoki population declines may continue, thus undermining the value of the certification. The Panel sees this as a serious issue. We place particular emphasis on the need for rigorous implementation of the CARs (as amended) identified by the Certification Body, particularly CARs 001, 002 and 008, and stringent application of the MSC audit procedures.

Subject to the concerns raised above, the final decision of the Panel in accordance with FCM §4.2.4.14 is to allow the determination of the Certification Body to stand.

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