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An Australian orange roughy fishery will not be certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global Standard for sustainable fishing, following the decision of an independent adjudicator – the latest stage in an 18-month-long assessment process. 

An independent assessment body – MRAG Americas – had previously recommended the Australia Orange Roughy Eastern Zone trawl fishery had met the MSC sustainable fishing Standard.

Its assessment documents show how, after being overfished in the 1980s and 90s, careful management has led to the rebuilding of Australia’s orange roughy stocks in specific zones and that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority allocated a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 1,370t in the 2020-21 season to the fishery. 

However, NGOs – the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and WWF-Australia raised objections against that decision in 2020, and under the MSC’s independent process, those objections have been considered by an adjudicator, Melanie Carter. 
She upheld one objection, finding that Australian orange roughy is “conservation dependent” under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and thereby considered an endangered, threatened and protected species.

The decision then finds the fishery not eligible for certification, because under the MSC Standard, fisheries must minimize their catch of ETP species. Following this finding, the assessment body must now either change its recommendation or withdraw the fishery from assessment.

Orange roughy is a long-living, deep sea dwelling fish found in southern Australian waters. During the 1980s and 90s, fishery managers, NGOs and scientists raised the alarm over serious overfishing.
Catch rates for Australian orange roughy were highest in 1989-1990 at around 35,000 tonnes per year before strict regulations were imposed limiting the annual catch to around 2,000 tonnes. The strict catch rate combined with a robust rebuilding strategy helped ensure the continued recovery of the stock to target levels.

The Australian orange roughy fishery that asked to be assessed to the MSC Fishery Standard is a deep-water trawl fishery operating in waters to the east and south of Tasmania.

Although the numbers of orange roughy were once below healthy target levels, it has rebuilt through years of precautionary management and an understanding from the commercial fishing sector that this needed to happen to bring the fishery back to a healthy biomass.

Patrick Caleo, Asia Pacific Regional Director for the MSC 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.”

He added, “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.”

What is sustainable fishing?

Sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting habitats and ensuring people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.

What is sustainable fishing?