A Japanese longline fishery is set to become the first bluefin tuna fishery to achieve certification to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global standard for sustainable fishing.
This follows the latest stage in the two-year assessment process, in which an Independent legal expert, Mr Eldon Greenberg, decided a concern raised by WWF about bluefin tuna maturity had been dealt with in an action plan.
The adjudicator's findings pave the way for the fishery – Usufuku Honten – to receive MSC certification pending minor amendments to the assessor's final report. This is a significant moment in the turnaround of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna which has been the subject of concerted conservation efforts for the past 20 years.
Family-owned Usufuku Honten has a single vessel in assessment, which in 2018 caught just 55 tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna out of 28,200 tonnes of the total allowable catch set by the international body which governs Atlantic tuna fishing (ICCAT). Usufuku Honten’s MSC certified catch is initially destined for sale in Japan.
The assessment process identified some improvements which the fishery must make as a condition of certification. These conditions must be met within the next five years, and include one that requires the fishery to work with ICCAT, its member states and other fishing organisations - with support of the Fisheries Agency of Japan - to allow this bluefin tuna stock to recover further.
The independent assessment was carried out by Control Union UK and the two-year process has been informed by active engagement and valuable contributions from WWF International and The Pew Charitable Trusts, as well as Usufuku Honten’s management. This included a six-month formal process resolving concerns raised by WWF International and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Marine Stewardship Council’s Chief Science and Standards Officer, Dr Rohan Currey, said:
“This certification reflects the positive, concerted action taken over many years, to support the recovery of bluefin in the Eastern Atlantic and we hope that Usufuku Honten achieving MSC-certification will raise the awareness of the importance of sustainably-sourced tuna with Japanese consumers.
“To meet MSC’s Standard, a fishery must meet a high bar of sustainability and be committed to continual improvements. Usufuku Honten has worked hard to reach that standard, and we appreciate the contributions of all parties involved in this two-year process.
“However, we must be mindful that other stocks of bluefin tuna are not in such good shape as the Eastern Atlantic. Our collective challenge is to ensure the sustainable fishing of all bluefin tuna globally.”
The path to recovery
The independent assessment team found that the bluefin tuna stocks in the Eastern Atlantic is now at a healthy level to be fished sustainably. The recovery of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna has been aided by environmental NGO activism, improved fishery management and an international recovery plan – which included dramatically lower fishing quotas. By 2014 scientific assessments indicated the stock was recovering faster than expected, and more recent scientific models indicate numbers have steadily risen in the past decade. ICCAT, which is responsible for managing Atlantic tunas, considered this recovery plan a success in 2018 and agreed to continue increasing catch quotas gradually until 2020. More about Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna's recovery.
A small fishery leading by example
Between 2012 and 2018, Usufuku Honten’s vessel caught an average of 292 bluefin tuna per year weighing around 150kgs each. It catches bluefin tuna using longlines, taking a few weeks to fish its allocation of the Eastern Atlantic stock in October. Usufuku Honten has consistently stayed within its quota, which is verified by detailed records the fishery keeps for the Japan Fisheries Agency as well as ICCAT. Each tuna is electronically tagged with serial number, quickly frozen onboard, then securely shipped to Japan where it is destined to be eaten as top-quality sashimi. Usufuku has seven distant water vessels, of which only one has been assessed to the MSC Standard (the Shofuku-maru No.1).
Find out more about the fishery and how it meets the MSC Standard in our factsheet.
The Usufuku Honten Northeast Atlantic longline bluefin tuna fishery assessment documents are available at https://fisheries.msc.org.