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North West Atlantic Canada pelagic longline swordfish fishery completes MSC certification

Apr 19, 2012

The North West Atlantic Canada swordfish (Xiphias Gladius) pelagic longline fishery has been awarded Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification by independent certifier Intertek Moody Marine after IMM’s scientific, third-party assessment determined the fishery meets the MSC Standard as a sustainable and well-managed fishery.  The swordfish fishery is active in waters off Nova Scotia and on the Grand Banks, inside and outside the Canadian EEZ. 

The swordfish fishery operates on a foundation of established management practices regulated by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) under the auspices of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). 

Independent certifier IMM concluded the Canadian longline swordfish fishery meets the MSC standard because the stock is healthy and has been rebuilt from low levels in the early 1990’s.  IMM also found that the swordfish fishery’s bycatch of sharks and turtles are within biological limits, and that the swordfish fishery is well managed with an annual quota for the fleet, Individual Transferrable Quotas (ITQs), size and gear restrictions.  

The certification of the Canadian longline swordfish fishery to the MSC Standard will also bring about a number of improvements as a result of the work by the expert scientific team that conducted the assessment, input from scientists that peer reviewed the work, engagement with stakeholders, and on-going scientific research and management action plans developed by the Canadian government to protect turtle and shark populations inside commercial fishing waters.   

What the fishery says

“The successful completion of MSC certification makes Canada the first country to be able to offer its entire swordfish catch to the marketplace bearing the MSC ecolabel, the internationally recognized symbol of sustainability,” said Troy Atkinson of the Nova Scotia Swordfishermen’s Association.  “As well, the Canadian longline fleet is the first pelagic longline fishery at the national level to have achieved the distinction of being certified as sustainable by the MSC and looks forward to making its catch available to customers that seek sustainably caught swordfish. MSC certification demonstrates the deep commitment of our swordfish industry and resource managers to the sustainable harvest and management of the swordfish resource.”

What the MSC says

“The assessment process and certification improvement requirements for this fishery serve as a good example of the MSC’s theory of change working in practice,” said Kerry Coughlin, Regional Director, Americas.  “The rigorous scientific assessment of this fishery, conducted in an open, transparent process, brought the fishery, diverse stakeholders, fishery managers, scientists and government together to produce positive action. The fishery has committed to efforts to further protect turtles, ensure the sustainability of the swordfish stock, and monitor and research shark bycatch.  Working together, all parties involved have advanced efforts to ensure a sustainable harvest that does not harm other marine populations.”

IMM identified 11 improvement actions the swordfish fishery must resolve during certification, which lasts five years.  The improvements address three principle areas of concern raised during assessment by the stakeholders and scientists involved: ICCAT and DFO management policies, impact on sharks, and impact on turtles.  

Two improvement actions require the swordfish fishery to work with the Canadian Government to obtain clearer minimum guideposts for swordfish populations and harvest control rules from the international management organization ICCAT.

Six of the 11 improvements are concerned with strategies to further minimize impacts on shortfin mako, porbeagle and blue sharks and on loggerhead turtles.  The independent certifier’s scientific review team accepted an ICCAT assessment of blue shark that said: “most models consistently predicted that blue shark stocks in the Atlantic are not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring” and the team similarly concluded the stock status of blue shark is healthy.  However, the team also agreed with concerns raised by stakeholders around the management strategy of blue sharks and set a condition to address the concerns. The conditions on the certification have specific annual milestones that allow progress to be measured.

The swordfish fishery’s practices currently follow regulatory bycatch reduction / mitigation approaches for minimizing turtle mortality, but the certification requires additional improvements that will further increase loggerhead turtle survival and reduce interaction under a new conservation plan implemented by DFO during the MSC assessment.  Based on information from DFO considered in the assessment, turtle impacts have been determined by the independent certifier’s scientific team to be biologically acceptable because this impact is unlikely to harm the loggerhead turtle population recovery in the North West Atlantic. 

The remaining three improvement actions require the fishery to work with the Canadian Government to obtain more scientific research on shark and turtle populations and to advocate for a more precautionary approach from ICCAT on directed fisheries and turtle and shark interactions.

Existing Canadian government management and regulations include a number of requirements intended to support commercial swordfish fishing without endangering biologic diversity in the sea from other stocks, including sharks and turtles. 

The fishery has minimum size restrictions in place for swordfish and sharks caught as bycatch and retained.  There are gear restrictions that require circle hooks and leader length designed to minimize bycatch mortality.  DFO regulates area closures to minimize bluefin tuna bycatch and biologically sensitive area interactions.  A 100% Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is used to confirm fishing locations and 100% dockside monitoring is required for all landings.  Independent observer coverage has averaged 7.6% over the past decade.  Turtle de-hooking equipment is required on board every vessel and there is mandatory training for all crew.  Shark “finning” is banned.

An annual catch quota for swordfish is established by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in accordance with the recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.  Landings using longline gear average 1,100 MT per year.  Over 90 per cent of the swordfish landed is exported to the United States.

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