Sea turtles appear as incidental by-catch in many fisheries, but it seems that growing demand for sustainably caught seafood could be helping to change the way these fisheries operate.
Awareness of environmental issues is a growing trend worldwide and, in many markets, fisheries that are able to demonstrate that they adhere to environmental best practice have a distinct advantage. By creating buyer demand and promoting responsible fishing, market incentive programmes like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are making it economically attractive to change the way the world’s oceans are fished.
The MSC is an international non-profit organisation that was set up to help transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. The scheme’s certification and ecolabelling programme includes two standards, to ensure environmental sustainability of seafood and to provide full traceability of MSCcertified products through the supply chain. For fisheries, assessment against the standard is voluntary, though many fishers, supply chain companies and retailers have recognised the marketing power of a transparent, science-based, third-party assessment, and in many countries have made commitments that place MSC-certification at the heart of their sales and procurement strategies.
For a fishery to be considered sustainable the MSC requires that it must not harm the integrity of the ecosystem in which it operates. As well as health of the target stock, certifiers assess governance and management systems and also the wider ecosystem impacts specific to the fishery undergoing assessment. Amongst the 31 scoring criteria there is specific consideration given to endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species.
The benefits of an environmental standard are not realized only through those fisheries already operating sustainably, however. The MSC’s ‘Theory of Change’ recognises that it is the pull to certification that drives change and the MSC process allows fisheries to undergo a confidential preassessment that identifies areas in need of improvement.
In the Indian Ocean the MSC has engaged with a number of fisheries. Amongst those with recognised turtle impacts, both the Madagascar shrimp fishery and the Mozambique deep & shallow water shrimp fisheries have undergone pre-assessments and are currently involved in Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) – projects that bring together multiple stakeholders to collaborate in a stepwise approach to improving fishing practices and management. Although MSC certification is the ultimate goal in most of these fisheries, FIPs are not an official part of MSC assessments. NGOs such as WWF and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) often manage the processes to ensure that improvements are tracked and time-bound so that when they are completed the fishery is ready to enter full MSC assessment. Improvement measures identified in the Mozambican shallow water shrimp fishery include the implementation of turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) on all vessels. This is something that has already been done in Madagascar, where the first MSC pre-assessment in 2004 identified turtle catches as an issue that would need to be addressed.
Beyond FIPs, fisheries that enter full assessment are open to scrutiny from all stakeholders and inputs are both invited and encouraged.
In the recently certified Maldives pole & line skipjack fishery the assessors noted that ‘The Maldives is an important nesting site for the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). Other sea turtles using the islands are loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is an occasional visitor to the area. Nationwide scientific research on the local turtle population (size and structure) and the dynamic destruction of its feeding and nesting grounds has been carried out, but there is no active research programme at present. The harvesting of sea turtles within Maldivian territorial waters was banned in 1995, with a further moratorium until 31 December 2015 (Directive No: FA-G/29/2005/07).’ They further added that ‘Turtle bycatch is highly unusual as the P&L method is a rapid form of fishing using barbless hooks without bait (except for chumming) that would effectively exclude sea turtles from the catch.’(126.96.36.199, p. 23 Final Report: Pole and Line Skipjack Fishery in the Maldives)
Similarly, in Australia’s northern prawn fishery (NPF), turtles received special consideration as ETP species. ‘Six turtle species were assessed in the Level 2.5 ERA and none were found to be at high risk from the NPF. These results were largely due to the successful implementation of TEDs in the NPF in 2001, which reduced the bycatch of turtles from approximately 5,700 to 30 per year.’ (188.8.131.52, p. 68 Final Report: Australian Northern Prawn Fishery). In September 2012 the Western Australian Government announced a partnership with the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council for a $14.5million fund for Western Australian fisheries to gain third party sustainability certification.
For more information about the work of the Marine Stewardship Council, the following links will be interest:
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): http://www.msc.org
- Maldives pole & line skipjack fishery: http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-theprogram/ certified/indian-ocean/maldives_pole_line_skipjack_tuna
- FIPs managed by WWF: https://sites.google.com/site/fisheryimprovementprojects/home
- FIPs managed by SFP: http://www.sustainablefish.org/fisheries-improvement/fisheryimprovement-projects
The best way to keep track of fisheries under MSC assessment is to sign up to receive updates when fisheries enter the process. This can be done on our website at: http://www.msc.org/newsroom/updates
MSC Southern Africa
PO Box 7107, Roggebaai 8012
Cape Town, South Africa
Tel/Fax: +27 (0)21 551 0620
Contact details for MSC offices around the world: http://www.msc.org/about-us/offices-staff
Michael Marriott, MSC Commercial & Communications Manager in Southern Africa, has kindly provided this feature article.