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Lake Erie multi-species fishery in Canada enters MSC assessment

The Lake Erie multi-species commercial fishery has entered into independent, third-party assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) principles and criteria for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. If certified, this fishery will provide a significant volume of lake fish to markets in North America and globally. The fishery client, Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association (OCFA) has contracted with independent certifier Intertek Moody Marine (IMM) to conduct the assessment against the global MSC standard. The certifier IMM plans to complete the assessment by summer 2014.

About the Lake Erie multi-species fishery

There are six species of lake fish being considered in the MSC assessment of Lake Erie fisheries: yellow perch, walleye (pickerel), rainbow smelt, lake white fish, white bass and white perch.  If successful, landings of these species by vessels in Canadian and U.S. waters will be eligible to bear the MSC ecolabel if sold through the members of OCFA. In 2013, the allowable catch of the four largest commercial fisheries on Lake Erie is approximately 7,000 tonnes of rainbow smelt, 2,700 tonnes of yellow perch, 2,200 tonnes of walleye (pickerel) and 350 tonnes (in Ontario only) of lake white fish.

These six species are caught by vessels based in Ontario, Canada, using trawls, trap nets and gill nets and by vessels based in the U.S. portion of Lake Erie using trap nets. There are currently 23 units of the fishery being assessed by IMM against the MSC standard, taking into account the management systems in both jurisdictions, the stocks of the six species and the various gear types. 

The Lake Erie fishery is managed cooperatively by Canada and the United States through the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC), a bilateral organization founded to develop research programs and recommend measures to permit the maximum sustained productivity of stocks of fish in the Great Lakes. Specifically, the Lake Erie Committee of GLFC includes fishery management agency representatives from Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan and is supported by national advisory bodies. The Lake Erie Committee establishes allowable catch levels for lake stocks and each jurisdiction then manages its respective fisheries. The commercial fishery in Ontario is managed using one of the longest running Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) programs in Canada.

The client for the MSC assessment, OCFA, brings together vessel and plant owners engaged in the commercial fishery on Lake Erie and other Great Lakes.  Member companies of OCFA that are engaged in the MSC assessment have agreed to share the MSC certificate, if the assessment is successful, with OCFA members and with other parties engaged in the commercial fishery on Lake Erie. 

Demonstrated commitment to sustainability

Dennis Cartier, acting executive director of the Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association, says “OCFA’s long-standing practices as a valued partner with government in the management of the Lake Erie fishery demonstrates our commitment to the sustainability of commercial fishing on the lake.  We believe the hard work of our vessels owners, fishers and science personnel has prepared us for an assessment against the MSC standard.  We look forward to the day when seafood enthusiasts in Canada and the U.S. will know Ontario fish products from Lake Erie come from a fishery that meets a global standard for sustainability as represented by the Marine Stewardship Council.”  

Assessment represents collaborative efforts

Kerry Coughlin, MSC Regional Director, Americas, says: “The assessment of the Lake Erie multi-species fishery represents the collaborative efforts of the Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, both in the U.S. and in Canada. If successful in achieving MSC certification, the fishery will become a significant source of sustainably certified lake fish for global markets. We are pleased the Lake Erie multi-species fishery has decided to partner with  the rigorous, science-based MSC program, and look forward to the fishers, if their assessment is successful, receiving the benefits of this international recognition.”

About Intertek Moody Marine (IMM)

Independent certifier Intertek Moody Marine (IMM) will conduct the assessment of this fishery against the MSC standard. Ian Scott, IMM lead auditor for this assessment, can be reached at [email protected].  Stakeholders with an interest in the fishery are encouraged to provide comments and information for this assessment process directly to IMM.

Key facts about the MSC