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MSC certified Western Central Pacific tuna at risk of suspension

Critical intergovernmental meeting in December must progress negotiations on measures to support sustainability. 

Twenty-two tuna fisheries in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) could face suspension of their certification to the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) standard for sustainable fishing. These fisheries were certified with a time bound requirement that fishing nations agree on measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of shared tuna stocks through the development of harvest strategies and control rules. This agreement is yet to materialise.    

Tuna from the WCPO makes up over half of the global commercial tuna catch, and currently 73% of all MSC certified tuna comes from the region [1]. The MSC cautions that failure of these globally important fisheries to retain their certification could undermine years of progress towards sustainable tuna fishing. Failure to agree the management measures required could see fisheries’ MSC certification suspended in June 2023. 

The rising global demand for tuna is putting increasing pressure on stocks and ecosystems [2]. In efforts to address this, there has been a rise in tuna fisheries committing to sustainable practices, with nearly half of the global commercial tuna catch now certified to the MSC Standard, or in assessment [3]. This is a remarkable achievement which has resulted in lasting changes in the way tuna is caught and established the MSC programme as an achievable and effective framework for sustainable tuna fishing. 

However, as tuna fisheries span geopolitical boundaries, they require international agreement on how shared stocks are managed in a way that ensures their long-term sustainability. This includes having in place harvest strategies and harvest control rules, which act as a ‘safety net’ if currently healthy stocks begin to decline. The 26 member states of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Committee (WCPFC), the regional fisheries management organisation for the WCPO, must agree to make this happen.

Up until now, agreement on these important measures has not been forthcoming. The WCPFC now has until December 2022 to conclude negotiations, with interim progress needed at their next annual meeting in December 2021. Failure to do so could see all 22 certified tuna fisheries in the region, as well as an additional five currently seeking MSC certification, having their certificates suspended by independent assessors in June 2023.   

Although certified sustainable tuna would still be available from other fisheries, it’s vital to keep up the momentum. Loss of certification would be a setback for these fisheries in the WCPO which have worked hard to improve their performance to meet the MSC Standard. The transparency of independent assessment would also be lost, and progress on improvements associated with the requirements of the Standard, such as better management of bycatch and the use of fish aggregating devices, could be delayed. Tuna from these fisheries would also no longer be able to carry the MSC blue label as a trusted signifier of its sustainability credentials. 

Nicolas Guichoux, Chief Program Officer at the Marine Stewardship Council said:  

“Responsible management is the key to sustainable fishing, and for complex fisheries like tuna, effective harvest strategies and harvest control rules play an essential role in making sure enough fish are left in the sea for them to replenish. If tuna from the Western Central Pacific Ocean is to be fished sustainably in the long term, members of the regional management agency must agree to secure these vital stock protections without delay.  

“MSC certified tuna fisheries in the WCPO are world-leaders in sustainable tuna harvesting and serve as an important example of best practice to other fisheries across the globe. If an agreement on harvest control rules cannot be reached by the WCPFC then it could also send a negative signal to others striving to achieve sustainability.”



[2] The global tuna market reached a value of US$11.6 billion in 2018 according to: Research and Markets, 2019. Tuna Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024. 

[3] Global Tuna Catch (2019 FAO): 1.67 million tonnes (28.89%) MSC certified, 1.18 million tonnes (20.40%) in assessment and 1.13 million tonnes (19.54%) in a Fisheries Improvement Program, out of Global tuna catch of 5.77 million tonnes (in 2019, most recently released FAO data)