Eastern Atlantic Tuna WWF

WWF has criticised the MSC decision to certify Eastern Atlantic Bluefin tuna

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has severely criticised the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) decision to certify Atlantic Bluefin tuna fishery to a Japanese fishing company.

The MSC last week decided to award certification to a Japanese longline fishery for Eastern Atlantic Bluefin tuna. 

The award followed the latest stage in a two-year assessment process, in which an Independent legal expert, Eldon Greenberg, decided a concern raised by WWF about bluefin tuna maturity rates had been dealt with by an updated action plan. 

The findings paved the way for the fishery – Usufuku Honten – to receive certification pending minor amendments to the final report.  This was as the MSC calls it, a significant moment in the turnaround of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin which has been the subject of concerted conservation efforts for the past twenty-years. 

Family-owned Usufuku Honten has a single vessel in assessment, which in 2018 caught just 55 tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna out of 28,200 tonnes of the total allowable catch set by the international body which governs Atlantic tuna fishing (ICCAT). Usufuku Honten’s MSC certified catch is initially destined for sale in Japan.

The assessment process identified some improvements which the fishery must make as a condition of certification. These conditions must be met within the next five years, and include one that requires the fishery to work with ICCAT, its member states and other fishing organisations to allow this bluefin tuna stock to recover further.

This “Certify today and aim for sustainability in 2025” approach has been condemned by WWF who believe that the MSC has abandoned the principles on which their certification process is founded.

On their website the WWF wrote:

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), has just announced its first eco-certification of an Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery, while admitting it will take a minimum of five years for the population numbers of the species to return to healthy levels. WWF opposes the certification, believing it will hinder the full recovery of one of the world’s most valuable fish stocks.

After a two-year consultation and an objection filed by WWF, the adjudicator did not uphold the objections against the MSC certification for bluefin tuna granted to a Japanese fishery. Nonetheless, thanks to WWF’s scientific evidence, the certification includes the condition that by 2025 the fishery will need to prove that the stock reached sustainability level [2]. This confirms WWF’s concern that the certification is premature and could put the long-overdue recovery of the bluefin tuna stock at risk.

Commenting on the announcement, Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative, said: “Certify today and aim for sustainability in 2025. This does not reflect the rigorous certification standards we would expect to be applied when assessing one of the most valuable fish in the ocean, which was once harvested to the brink of extinction. MSC certification of bluefin tuna is an alarming signal that the result is driven by industry demand rather than scientific evidence of sustainability.

“Consumers in Japan will have MSC-labelled bluefin tuna that is not sustainable and a French tuna fishery is expected to receive the same certification soon. This may be a dangerous trend that can threaten the full recovery of bluefin tuna and our possibility of restoring ocean health globally by 2030.”

WWF and other NGOs had provided extensive scientific evidence proving the stock is not yet being fished within sustainable limits. Control Union Pesca, the accredited Conformity Assessment Body (CAB), failed to apply the best available science and overestimated the sustainability level of the bluefin tuna stock, resulting in scores that supported the certification of the fishery (Principle 1 of MSC Certification). In addition, WWF was able to prove a dangerous lack of impartiality of the CAB vis-a-vis the fishery client, which skewed the evaluation. WWF is closely following the ongoing certification process for the French bluefin tuna fishery.

The result of this objection confirms WWF’s long-held belief in the need to reform the MSC standard and assurance system. As the world’s oceans bear increasing pressure, the MSC must ensure that its standard stays consistent with current science and global best practice. Specifically, WWF has been advocating for CABs to conduct an impartial and objective assessment, independent of their clients. CABs must use sound science and specific knowledge to justify all scoring, and where data is lacking, they must adopt the precautionary principle as the basis for decisions. The case of the bluefin tuna demonstrates that we are far from reaching this approach. In addition, the objections procedure must include the opportunity for independent scientific review of a CAB’s scoring decision and justifications where there is clear controversy and/or competing scientific analysis. 

“Consumers and retailers need to be able to have confidence in the MSC-certified label. Unfortunately, we are forced to question the appropriateness of that label for a growing list of fisheries, and now even for bluefin tuna,” said John Tanzer, Oceans Lead for WWF. “We have spent two years engaged in a process to strengthen the assurance mechanisms and help the MSC reliably and consistently deliver on its promise of seafood from healthy stocks and a healthy marine environment. We are disappointed with the end result. WWF will not be recommending the purchase of MSC-certified bluefin to consumers.”

WWF’s concern over the status of bluefin tuna stock is further confirmed by the ongoing illegal fishing activities and irregularities happening in many countries across the Mediterranean. WWF is currently following the infringement procedure launched by the EU Commission against Malta for the irregular transfer of 3,500 tunas regularly caught by Italian and French fisheries and that are being trapped in carrier cages for almost a year. WWF is requesting the immediate release of tunas before they die or get smuggled. A large illegal trade of bluefin tuna worth over €12 million per year was also discovered in 2018 by Interpol  that involved various fishing companies and distributors between Malta, Spain, and other EU countries.

Brian J McMullin Solicitors
MMG Welding Killybegs

WWF criticises MSC decision to certify Eastern Atlantic Bluefin tuna

by editor time to read: 8 min