Press release

Maldives Pole-and-Line skipjack tuna achieves MSC certification

February 26, 2014

The Maldives pole-and-line skipjack fishery has today been awarded Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.  This follows independent assessment against the MSC’s rigorous environmental standard. Skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis) from members of the client group, Maldives Seafood Processors and Exporters Association (MSPEA), is now eligible to be marketed with the MSC’s globally recognised ecolabel.  The coveted blue label provides consumers with assurance that the product is traceable back to a certified sustainable source.

A low impact fishery

Regional management of tuna in the Indian Ocean falls under the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).  Maldives has been an active participant in the IOTC’s scientific working parties and became a full member in July 2011.  Within the Maldives EEZ fisheries governance is based around the Fisheries Law of the Maldives (No. 5/1987) and management is the responsibility of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

Pole-and-line fishing is a centuries-old practice in the Maldives and the fishery is often heralded as a good example of highly selective and low impact fishing. Since entering MSC assessment in July 2009 the Maldives has proposed and advocated for resolutions on the Precautionary Approach (PA) and the establishment of reference points for tuna stocks, playing an integral role in the adoption by the IOTC of Resolution 12/01 on the PA and Recommendation 12/14 on interim target and limit reference points for the major IOTC species.  “Certification of this fishery constitutes an example of the benefits of improved governance focused on sustainability.  The recent formal adoption of the PA by IOTC member States, led by Maldives, was a clear step towards strengthening management of tuna in the Indian Ocean. This is a positive incentive for the IOTC members to continue tackling the challenges that still remain,” said Executive Secretary of IOTC, Mr Alejandro Anganuzzi.

In addition the Maldives introduced a shark fishing and export ban, which came into effect in July 2010, and announced at Rio +20 that the entire country would become a biosphere reserve within the next five years, allowing only sustainable fishing practices. “Maldivians take pride in their skipjack pole-and-line fishery – a sustainable fishery that has thrived for over a millennium by catching tuna one by one.  Maldivians are grateful and delighted that at last the world has recognised, through open and transparent scrutiny, the sustainable nature of our fishery– a fact that we have always believed. We thank all stakeholders, the MSC and our certifier for their support”, said Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan.

Supporting global retail commitments

Historically, Maldives’ economy was entirely dependent on fisheries and other marine products and fishing is still the second most important economic sector today, after tourism.  Fishing and related activities employ around 30 per cent of the country’s workforce, contributing over 15 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, in recent years, Maldives’ skipjack catches have made up approximately 90,000 tonnes of their pole-and-line fishery.  Products are canned or put into pouches for export, mainly to Europe where many retail and food service sector companies have made strong commitments to source certified sustainable and fully traceable seafood choices. With growing demand and increasing consumer recognition of the MSC label in these strategically important markets it is anticipated that this fishery will benefit significantly from its newfound status.

Reflecting on the significance of this iconic fishery’s certification, Rupert Howes, MSC’s CEO, said, “Assessment against the MSC’s sustainability standard is an incredibly rigorous process and I’d personally like to congratulate the MSPEA and the Government of Maldives, as well as the pole-and-line fishers themselves on the successful outcome of the assessment and for choosing the MSC programme to demonstrate the sustainability of this important fishery. .  This assessment also further demonstrates the applicability and relevance of the MSC’s global programme for the developing world and I very much hope that it will encourage other developing world fisheries to enter into assessment. I wish them every success in the market.”

About the assessment and certification

Assessment against the MSC standard was conducted by the independent, third party certifier, Intertek Moody Marine.  In scoring the fishery the assessment team took into consideration overall stock health and management of skipjack in the Indian Ocean, as well as all potential ecosystem impacts attributed to the Maldives fishery.  The assessment found the skipjack stock to be in a healthy state and the fishery adhering to good management principles, with marginal impact on habitats and non-target species.

The assessment received valuable stakeholder input, notably from WWF, and the certifier raised a number of requirements for further management action that will bring all aspects of the fishery’s performance up to global best practice.  Broadly, these requirements call for improvements in the information required for future effective fisheries management.  Daniel Suddaby, WWF Smart Fishing Initiative Tuna Manager, said, "WWF is proud of the Maldives for taking a leading role in driving sustainable management of tuna in the Indian Ocean, and for their commitment to improving the skipjack fishery through strong participation in the IOTC.  Certification of this fishery will help the Indian Ocean’s commercial fisheries towards economic and environmental sustainability, and we look forward to further working with the Maldives government and industry to address the challenges that lie ahead.”

The fishery has undertaken to work with the IOTC to develop limit reference points and implementation of harvest control rules, as well as requirements for better information gathering in relation to vessel infringements, stock and baitfish management and protection of endangered, threatened and protected species. 

The current certificate is valid for five years, during which progress against these management action plans will be tracked and available for public review in annual surveillance audits.

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