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A front facing photo of Ernesto Jardim.

Ernesto Jardim

MSC Fisheries Standards Director

Managing fisheries sustainably depends on international cooperation

October 1, 2020

Writing in our 2020 Annual Report, Ernesto Jardim talks about how collaboration across borders is essential for sustainable fishing, especially when faced with a changing climate.  

Fish do not acknowledge borders – so international cooperation in fisheries management is crucial. Highly migratory species such as tuna, cross vast expanses of ocean, while others such as herring spend their lives in smaller areas of sea.

The joint demersal fisheries certification in the North Sea illustrates how fishing organisations in different countries can come together to manage stocks that share the same ecosystem. In this case, as a condition of MSC certification, the fisheries need to put in place a monitoring system to prove they meet the landing obligation (discard ban), as in this case, it is a condition of MSC certification. Governments need to do this anyway to comply with EU law introduced in reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy. Now, regulators, fishers and markets should all be pulling in the same direction.

The need for international cooperation is going to increase as a result of climate change. Stocks of pelagic species in the North East Atlantic, such as mackerel and herring, have been moving further north because of climate change, and have been increasingly found in the waters of Greenland and Iceland. But quotas set have not reflected this change, so stocks are being overfished. As a result, all the MSC certified mackerel fisheries in the North East Atlantic had their certification suspended last year.

This is a stark illustration of how we need to manage whole ecosystems in an adaptive, scientific way, rather than managing national fish stocks independently. While individual fisheries often make great efforts to improve their sustainability, ultimately, they cannot do it alone. International management systems need to deliver too.

Twelve species, four nations, one certification

Involving four countries, 12 species, 10 gear types and nearly 1,000 vessels, the joint demersal fisheries of Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands achieved certification in October 2019. Fisheries associations will cooperate to harvest sustainably a marine area in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat almost the size of the four countries combined.

The fisheries previously held 10 individual certificates. Bringing them under one will make certification more efficient and cost-effective, as well as helping to drive improvements through better coordination and holistic management of the whole ecosystem. The collective approach has also helped bring some fisheries into the program that might not have otherwise seen certification as commercially viable.

Reflecting the size and complexity of the certificate, the assessment process took more than two years. This included reviews by independent scientists, extensive stakeholder consultations and in-depth analyses of stock assessments, impacts on other species, habitats and the ecosystem, as well as the effectiveness of regulations and fisheries management.

“We are very proud of the successful completion of our new MSC certificate. We catch high quality fish, our fisheries are sustainable and most of our catch is MSC certified. This is the icing on the cake and a fantastic victory.”
Svend Erik Andersen, Chairman of the Danish Fishermen PO

12 species:

Norway lobster (Nephrops)
Northern prawn (Pandalus)
Dover sole

* Certificates for all North Sea cod and whiting fisheries are currently suspended because of new scientific advice on stock levels.

North sea cod and climate change

Along with rapid changes in the distribution of pelagic species, climate change has been linked to recent declines in cod populations in the North Sea. Few juvenile cod appear to be surviving into adulthood, and stocks which had been recovering are now in decline again. Because of this, all North Sea cod fisheries had their MSC certification suspended in September 2019. It is a bitter blow for the fisheries that have worked so hard to rebuild stocks over the last decade. They have committed to new measures to help the species recover, but cod’s changing fortunes underscore the need for more cooperation and adaptive management as the climate changes.
Annual report 2019-2020

Annual report 2019-2020

Celebrating and supporting sustainable fisheries

Read the report
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