Canada Pacific halibut: the fishers' story
Meet the Canada Pacific halibut fishers
MSC certification is helping Canada's Pacific halibut fishers capitalise on their years of sustainable management and low-impact fishing. Jake Vanderheide, president of the Pacific Halibut Management Association, explains more.
"There is virtually no major buyer in the world now who doesn’t have or isn't developing a sustainable seafood sourcing policy, and they expect some kind of verification that the fishery is indeed well-managed. That is what MSC certification does for us."
Jake Vanderheide, president of the Pacific Halibut Management Association
Why we chose MSC certification
The commercial halibut fisheries off the U.S. states of Alaska and Washington achieved certification in 2006. As interest in the MSC standard has grown among buyers and processors since then, it became only a matter of time before many of the fisheries off British Columbia, which makes up Canada's entire west coast and features many of the same fish found in Alaska and the northwest U.S., would seek to become MSC certified themselves.
In the case of British Columbia halibut, says Jake Vanderheide, president of the Pacific Halibut Management Association, "The MSC system worked as it’s supposed to work. There was a very simple reason for seeking certification: the fisheries in Alaska had already achieved it, and we sell the same products into the same markets. We were quickly finding that our customers expected that we would have the same certification."
What sets us apart
Here are a few of the steps the Canadian halibut fishery has taken towards sustainable fishing:
- Individual transferable quota system keeps harvests within the total allowable catch, as well as increasing both crew safety and the value of the catch
- Integrated groundfish management manages more than 50 species holistically to reduce bycatch and discards
- Independent video monitoring and dockside validation ensures fishers are accountable for everything they catch, both directed and non-directed
- Ongoing commitment to measuring and reducing the fishery's impacts on non-target species and the ecosystem as a whole
Environmental benefits of MSC certification
Though the BC halibut fishery has been active since the 1880s, one of its most significant sustainability milestones did not come until 1991 when an individual transferable quota system to keep harvests within the total allowable catch (TAC) was established.
In 2006, Pacific halibut became part of the newly developed Commercial Groundfish Integrated Program covering more than 50 species and three different types of gear. Each vessel is allocated a specified share of the total allowable catch for each species and is accountable for all catch, directed and non-directed, retained or released. This means that "absolutely everything is counted," explains Vanderheide. Independent video monitoring on every halibut boat and independent dockside ensures compliance.
Groundfish integration has kept landed catch and at-sea releases well within species and area-specific sustainable harvest levels, while also improving data for research and stock assessment and reducing impacts to habitat through fishing area closures and reductions in the number of vessels, gear set, fishing time and areas fished. The halibut fishery is now, Vanderheide says, "one of the best-managed fisheries in the world."
The single condition imposed by MSC certification requires a strategic plan to deal with impacts from the halibut fishery on non-target species and for the mitigation of any unacceptable risks.How else does MSC certification benefit the environment?
The Canadian halibut fishery was well-managed long before MSC certification was even an option, but verification of that management through certification is increasingly necessary for many lucrative markets.
"Most halibut, both Alaskan and from BC, is sold in the North American white tablecloth market. It's generally accepted that halibut is a well-managed fishery, so MSC certification is simply a verification of that," Vanderheide says.
But he notes "there is virtually no major buyer in the world now who doesn’t have or isn't developing a sustainable seafood sourcing policy, and they expect some kind of verification that the fishery is indeed well-managed. That is what MSC certification does for us."How else does MSC certification improve economic prospects for fisheries?
Policy benefits of MSC certification
As recently as five years ago, the management agency in charge of the BC fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, saw certification as strictly a private business arrangement. But no longer."It's changed its views considerably as it's realised that many markets require certification and that it's impossible for a fishery to get certification on its own because so much of the information that is required is held by the management agency and any conditions tend to involve the agency very considerably," says Vanderheide. He says this has fostered a more collaborative relationship between the agency and the fisheries seeking certification.
The condition that came with MSC certification requires the management agency to assess the impact of the halibut fishery on other species. "We would have done this anyway as part of the natural evolution of sustainable fisheries management," says Vanderheide.
"As new information and new approaches to fisheries management become mainstream, we would expect that our management agency would move down that road," he says. "I'm particularly thinking of ecosystem management and measuring ecosystem impacts. The main thing the MSC certification does is speed up that process and makes sure it takes place in an open and transparent way."Get recipes for sustainable fish dishes
The article above was written by an independent journalist commissioned by the MSC to find out how MSC certification has helped this fishery.