Independent adjudicator issues final decision on Australian orange roughy

An Australian orange roughy fishery will not become certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global standard for sustainable fishing, following the latest stage in an 18-month-long assessment process.

Published 8 April 2021, updated 9 April 2021

In 2020, an independent assessment body recommended the Australia orange roughy – eastern zone trawl fishery for MSC certification, but one issue raised by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and WWF-Australia has been upheld after a formal objection process

The assessment, carried out by MRAG Americas, documents how, after being overfished in the 1980s and 90s, careful management has led to the rebuilding of Australia’s orange roughy stocks in this zone, and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority allocated a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 1,370t in the 2020-21 season to the fishery.  

However, after a formal hearing with the fishery, assessment body and objectors, the independent legal expert determined that while the Australian government sets allowable catch limits for orange roughy, national legislation also marks the species as conservation dependent.

The decision by the independent legal expert finds that orange roughy has to be treated as an endangered, threatened or protected (ETP) species in the assessment of the fishery, and is not eligible for certification because under the MSC standard fisheries must minimise their catch of ETP. Therefore MRAG Americas must either change its recommendation that the fishery meets the MSC fishery standard for sustainable fishing, or withdraw the fishery from assessment. 

All other objections raised by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and WWF-Australia were rejected by the adjudicator. 

Patrick Caleo, Asia Pacific Regional Director for the Marine Stewardship Council said: 

“The independent adjudicator recognised that the fishers and management agencies have worked hard, for more than a decade, to support the recovery of Australia’s orange roughy stock. While the Australian orange roughy – eastern zone trawl fishery will not become MSC certified at this time, due to its conservation dependent status under Australian legislation, the assessment underlines how far the fishery has come since stocks were overfished in the 80s and 90s. I would like to thank all involved in this assessment who have worked tirelessly to measure the fishery’s performance against the requirements of the MSC standard for sustainable fishing.” 

Key dates 

* The fishery asked to be assessed against the MSC Fisheries Standard, and independent assessment began in October 2019.

* In July 2020, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and WWF-Australia lodged objections to the independent assessor’s report recommending the fishery met the high-bar set for MSC certification.  

* The formal objections process, which is the final stage of an assessment, was overseen by a legal expert appointed to serve as an independent adjudicator. This process involved consultations, followed by a formal hearing with the fishery, the CAB, and the objectors, held over four days in November 2020. 

* The independent adjudicator issued their final, binding decision on 7 April 2021.

Documentation related to this assessment, including the independent adjudicator's final decision, is available on the MSC's Track a Fishery website

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