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Fishing Sustainability in Australia

Since the MSC was founded back in 1997, fisheries, governments, environmental NGOs, and consumers have been part of a collective effort to ensure our ocean is fished sustainably. Stakeholder participation in MSC fishery assessments contributes to stronger fishery performance at a time when fishing impacts on the ocean are compounded by pollution and climate change.

Today, 19% of all marine wild catch around the world has been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard. In Australia, over 52% of marine wild catch landings are MSC-certified. The Fishing for the Future Report 2023 is the first of its kind in Australia to outline the sustainable strides of fisheries that volunteer to be assessed against the MSC Fisheries Standards by a third-party, Conformity Assessment Body (CAB).

Together with active participation from the stakeholders, the MSC program sets a precedent for responsible fishing practices worldwide. The following report underscores the collective endeavour driving over 116 sustainable fisheries improvements throughout the country. These improvements contribute towards achieving the MSC vision of healthy oceans with seafood supplies safeguarded for the future. The approach means everyone has a role in protecting the future of our oceans and fish stocks while enjoying seafood - this is explained further in the MSC’s Theory of Change.

Progress in Sustainable Fishing

Australia is out-performing the global average with a healthy number of fisheries engaged in the MSC program. As of 21 Nov 2023: 

28 fisheries

engaged in the MSC program in Australia

38 species

diversity of species certified in Australia

0

MSC fisheries suspended in Australia

0

MSC fisheries in transition in Australia

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

UN SDGMSC certification is used by countries and organisations as part of their commitments towards delivering SDG14 on Life Below Water. Organisations and stakeholders involved in the MSC program for sustainable fishing are helping deliver at least 34 targets across 5 SDGs of key United Nations targets to end poverty and address urgent challenges for environmental, social and economic development, as suggested in the 2023 MSC SDG Analysis. Aside from the SDGs, the MSC program is also used as an indicator in the UN’s framework to safeguard ocean biodiversity. This aims to protect and conserve, by 2030, at least 30% of the planet, including a reduction to near-zero of the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance. 

On a global level, the MSC aim for 30% of fisheries to be MSC certified by 2023. In Australia alone, over 52% of fisheries are already certified. 

MSC-certified fisheries in Australia exceeds MSC's global goal by 2030

1/3 certified or engaged globally by 2030

More than one-third of global marine catch to be certified or engaged by 2030, supporting productivity and resilience in the world’s oceans.

52% of all Australian fisheries are certified as of Nov 2023

Australian Fisheries MSC Certified in 2023

Track a fishery

 

The MSC provides a searchable database of all the fisheries involved in the MSC program. All certificates and assessment documents can be downloaded from Track a fishery. A list with links to all Australian Fisheries and species certified is at the end of this report and in the below window showing the map of Australian Fisheries.

Analysis of improvements and comparison of stakeholder engagement for Australian fisheries assessed under MSC standards

The following is based on data collected between March 2000 and March 2022

Improvements through the MSC Program

MSC Certified fisheries make continuous improvements towards reducing bycatch, reducing ecosystem impact, and focusing on effective management. 

20 Fisheries

engaged in the MSC program in Australia

31 species

Diversity of species certified in Australia

116

improvements by MSC-certified fisheries in Australia

MSC-certified fisheries are audited annually following their initial assessment. At the end of the five-year certificate, if the fishery wishes to remain in the program for another five-year cycle, it must undergo the reassessment process. All assessments and reports are available for public viewing and comment at fisheries.msc.org

Standards are based on three principles and must reach a minimum score of 80 (with the highest 100).

 

  1. Stock health
  2. Ecosystem impact
  3. Sustainable Management

 

The below graph showcases the average improvements in scores made across the three principles for six Australian fisheries that completed two full assessment cycles in 2022. The comparison of scores between the two assessment cycles shows positive improvements in all principles. 

Comparison of assessment scores for each of the three standard principles. Initial assessment vs. first re-assessment 

Screenshot 2023-11-16 at 3.37.16 pm

Continuous improvements by MSC certified fisheries in Australia

Fisheries must pass a high level of sustainable working practices while meeting the MSC’s minimum requirements for each of the three principles to receive certification. Independent CABs may still find areas for improvement and, in such instances, will issue a “conditional” certification. These conditions signify improvements the fishery must make to maintain certification. Conditions are essential where a Performance Indicator scores between 60-79, and the fishery must then meet a performance level above 80 by the end of the 5-year certification cycle, based on yearly milestones. 

Australian fisheries have closed many conditions throughout their involvement in the MSC program. Up to 2022, 103 unique certification conditions were set on Australian MSC fisheries, driving fishery improvements across all elements of the MSC Fisheries Standard. Of the conditions, 77 were assessed independently and confirmed completed by a CAB. The remaining 26 open conditions were in the process of improving scoring outcomes.

Stakeholders are welcome to input into fishery condition performance through MSC’s annual surveillance audit process. 


Status of conditional warrants issued for each of the three Principles (March 2022)

Screenshot 2023-11-16 at 3.36.21 pm

Category of action required to close conditions

Screenshot 2023-11-16 at 5.50.12 pm
The graph below examines the distribution of P2 conditions across three categories: Habitats and ecosystem, bycatch and other species, and ETP. Over half (53%) of the conditions were classified as habitat conditions designed to either better understand or mitigate impacts to marine habitats and ecosystems. ‘Bycatch and other species’ refers to efforts to reduce the non-target or unwanted component of the catch (also includes bait species). Finally, Endangered, Threatened, or Protected (ETP) species refers to any condition requiring greater fishery accountability for the impact on, or management of, ETP species interactions. 

Conditions under Principle two: Ecosystem Impact, further categorise into: 1. Direct impact on habitat and ecosystem, 2. Bycatch and untargeted species, 3. Endangered, Threatened, and Protected species

Conditions under Principle two

Examples of improvements made by fisheries

Amongst the improvements made by fisheries used for the 2022 data, the following improvement cases provide some examples of outstanding advancements in sustainability standards and practices. 

 

Modified pot design

Western Rock Lobster Sea Lion Exclusion DeviceThe Australia Western Rock Lobster Fishery had conditions related to information and impacts on Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species, so it implemented a simple, industry-led response to prevent sea lions from getting stuck in lobster pots: a blunt metal rod attached to the bottom of the pot that prevents sea lions from getting stuck in the narrow neck of the pot. As part of the condition, the fishery established a monitoring program to study whether this could reduce the number of interactions with sea lions, and it found that the devices known as SLEDs (Sea Lion Exclusion Devices) were extremely effective. Since their implementation in 2009, the fishery has not had a single sea lion mortality. Not only did this reduce sea lion interactions entering the pots, but it also provided the rest of the world with evidence that this type of gear modification is effective against sea lion interactions. Now, it is required for all lobster pots set in waters less than 20m deep in designated zones in the Mid-West region and Abrolhos Islands1, helping to protect this endangered species from fishery interactions. 

Learn More: The Western Australia rock lobster fishery story | MSC

Modified longlines

The Australia Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery was certified in 2015 with a condition related to ETP species outcome. Fishery stakeholders had to demonstrate the fishery could reduce interactions with turtles as well as with mako sharks to a level where their recovery was not hindered by the assessed fishing operations. To do so, the fishery implemented an electronic monitoring system. The fishery had also introduced circle hooks, line cutters, and de-hookers to lower the level of interaction and impact on these endangered species. After the monitoring system proved that the interactions with these species were low enough to the point where the fishery was not detrimental to their populations, the condition was closed. 

Learn more: Tuna Australia earns the MSC blue fish tick for the Australian Eastern Tuna & Billfish Fishery | Marine Stewardship Council

Crew-member Observer Plan 

Both the Exmouth Gulf and Shark Bay prawn fisheries implemented crew-member observer programs to address the ETP species information conditions. Whilst the impact of these fisheries on sea snake and sawfish populations was considered highly likely to be within environmental tolerances, the stakeholders were tasked with a condition to improve the way they monitored and gathered information on such ETP interactions. The crew members were trained to safely handle snakes, and the observer program was a huge success: through the Crew Member Observer Program it was estimated that 10% of the sea snake interactions were identified at the species level, providing a strong reference position to understand sea snake interactions across the two fisheries. In the case of the Shark Bay prawn fishery, 88% of sea snakes were being released alive.

Learn more: Fishery innovations that drive ocean biodiversity research | Marine Stewardship Council (msc.org)

 

Multi Stakeholder Value

An integral and valuable component of the certification process is the transparency and opportunity for stakeholders to participate in discussion at critical stages of a fishery’s assessment. Stakeholder input strengthens credibility, transparency, and fair outcome.

  • External stakeholders may challenge the scoring of a fishery or any other structural part of the report.
  • If a credible case is brought forward, the Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) is obligated to consider, address, and respond and this may lead to amendments and/or change the fishery’s scoring.
  • If a stakeholder remains unsatisfied that their input has not been reflected in the finding of the fishery performance against MSC requirements, the objection can be taken to an independent adjudication process.

This is a further, independent legal review of the performance of both the CAB’s application of the MSC requirements on the fishery and the performance of the fishery itself.  

Participation across stakeholder groups in Australian Fisheries assessments up to March 2022

The following pie chart displays the level of stakeholder engagement based on submissions towards fisheries and assessment outcomes. Note the MSC(TO) refers to technical oversights including report errors (data, misspellings, grammar).

5 - Participation across stakeholder groups in Australian Fisheries assessments up to March 2022.

Areas of stakeholder focus for top three stakeholder groups: eNGOs, Governments, and Scientists

The following charts show the feedback received from three main stakeholder groups on assessments of fisheries in Australia up until March 2022. The feedback is grouped in relation to the three principles of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Pie Chart for the areas of focus from top three stakeholder groups.

Principle 2: Ecosystem Impact – level of engagement input per topic for each stakeholder group: eNGOs, Governments, and Scientists

Disregarding the MSC engagement due to technical oversights, the following chart further details the topic of discussion under 'principle 2, Ecosystem impact' area of focus.

P2 Ecosystem impact

Conclusion

Australia's fisheries have made significant strides in meeting MSC requirements, starting with the certification of the Australia Western Rock Lobster fishery as the world's first MSC-certified fishery in 2000. In 2021, MSC-certified landings witnessed a remarkable surge from 11,353 metric tons, constituting 5.8% of the national landings at the time, to approximately 85,806 metric tons—an extraordinary increase of nearly 700%. As of November 2023, over 52% of Australian fisheries have achieved MSC certification.

The past year has demonstrated substantial progress, with four new Australian fisheries attaining certification since January 2023. This development assures Australian consumers and key export markets that a significant portion of the country's seafood is sourced from fisheries engaged in sustainable and responsible fishing.

Given Australia's abundant biodiversity, it is imperative to sustain the momentum in cultivating fisheries that adhere to sustainability standards. This ensures confidence among consumers and stakeholders that Australia continues to manage its fisheries to safeguard crucial fish stocks and ecosystems, which play essential roles in environmental preservation and safeguarding seafood supplies for future generations.

A Message from Oceania Program Director, Anne Gabriel

Anne GabrielIn Australia, the team and I have had the privilege and honour of working with some of the finest and most dedicated fishing communities across large commercial fisheries to small scale artisanal fisheries; government representatives across state and commonwealth managed fisheries; academia, conservation community and businesses along the supply chain.   

In just the past year, we have witnessed note-worthy progress in the Australian waters with four new fisheries across six species being certified.  

In Australia, we have much to be proud of with over 52% of wild-caught landings by volume in Australia is MSC certified (to date Nov 2023). This not only brings lasting improvements to our water as you have seen in the report, but also empowers businesses along the supply chain both domestically and in export markets to meet their organization’s sourcing policy.  

With the scrutiny around greenwashing as of late, the MSC in Australia has responded to both the Senate inquiry and the ACCC draft guidance for businesses by offering them an independent, credible, and science-based solution to sourcing sustainable seafood.  

In turn, these businesses can offer consumers the option of playing their part. We know that consumers in Australia are increasingly taking action to protect the future of seafood amongst high levels of concern for the ocean and are looking for credible organisations and independent eco labels they can trust (Globescan 2022). 

There is a growing commitment that if fishing is done sustainably and if we manage our seas and fisheries better, we will have a greater quantity of seafood to support the growing population’s demand for food and nourishment while supporting livelihoods.  

We also recognise the importance of inculcating awareness of ocean literacy amongst the young, for whom sustainable fishing and sustainable seafood should be a natural choice as they grow up in the world. In this regard, we kicked off the global pilot education program in Australia four years ago with Saltwater Schools, a classroom-based education program aimed at school teachers.  

I hope this report showcases the possibilities of positive impact from strong leadership and collaboration across a wide group of people.