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Poole Harbour fishermen progress with goal for certification double-whammy

Poole Harbour fishermen are a step closer to their world-first goal after entering the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) comprehensive full assessment process.

The clam and cockle fishery is also currently in assessment against Seafish’s Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS). If successful, this will be the first fishery in the world to gain certification against these two different standards at the same time.

A world-first in seafood ecolabelling

The fishermen are aiming for independent third-party certification for environmental sustainability of the fishery (MSC certification) and responsible operations on board fishing vessels (RFS certification).

MSC and RFS certifications are mutually complementary. By working towards both certifications, the fishermen can demonstrate that they comply with both environmental sustainability credentials and high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices.

The MSC Fisheries Standard for sustainable fishing includes:

  1. Ensuring a healthy clam and cockle population
  2. Minimised environmental impacts
  3. Good fishery management

While the Responsible Fishing Scheme standard covers:

  1. Health, safety and welfare of the crew
  2. The vessel and its mission
  3. Care of the catch
  4. Care of the environment
  5. Training and professional development

Positive improvements on the water

The fishery entered MSC’s pre-assessment stage[1] in 2016 and completed this in September of the same year. The pre-assessment showed significant improvements have been made by the fishery to its fishing management and data collection since it took part in Project Inshore in 2012, demonstrating the fishery’s commitment to improving towards sustainable fishing practices.

Fisheries are assessed against MSC’s Fisheries Standard and this involves being scored against different criteria. The improvements made by the Poole Harbour fishery have been shown in pre-assessment to have increased the scores against the MSC standard[2], thanks to the introduction of a Code of Practice for protection of sensitive features and a new byelaw by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) – developed in conjunction with stakeholders – which issues permits for the dredge fishery and incorporates conditions, including seasonal and temporal closures, improved data collection on fishing effort and catch rates. While this is not a guarantee that the fishery will pass its MSC assessment, it highlights the positive changes being made by the fishery.

Tom Russell, Chairman, Poole & District Fisherman’s Association (PDFA), said: “I’m very pleased to see the fishery enter MSC assessment and progress along its sustainability journey. The fishery is very important to the local community, with families being involved right from the creation of the fishery 20 years ago. I am one of those fishermen. It provides Poole fishing families with a living. The PDFA are proud of the way the fishery has developed of the last few years. MSC and RFS certification will showcase our commitment to sustainability and responsible fishing practices.”

Chloe North, UK Fisheries Officer, MSC, said: It is extremely exciting that the fishery has now entered the MSC assessment process. This assessment allows fisheries to prove their sustainability against a global gold standard. Passing is a huge achievement. We wish the fishery the best of luck and invite all stakeholders to participate in the process.”

The Poole Harbour Shellfish Project

The Poole Harbour fishermen, through the Poole and District Fishermen’s Association, are leading on the Poole Harbour Shellfish Project to prove that the fishery meets global best practice. The project aims to support sustainable and responsible shellfish production in the area through the certification of the fishery against globally recognised sustainability and social standards.

This project will enable the fisheries to be recognised and rewarded for global best practice in achieving sustainability and will deliver a world leading example of supply chain assurance, providing a platform for exploring market developments and promoting the fishery to a wider audience.

The fishery

The relatively new clam fishery started in Poole Harbour about 20 years ago when farmed clams spread throughout and became naturalised.

The Southern IFCA has managed fishing for shellfish in Poole Harbour since as far back as 1915. The IFCA has worked closely with the fishing community to develop this fishery over the past few years through consultation and encouraging participation in the collection of stock assessment and environmental impacts data so as to promote a better understanding of the process of management development. There are currently 45 permit entitlements issued annually for the fishery with permit conditions including spatial and temporal restrictions on fishing, gear specifications and the requirement to provide monthly catch returns, all of which is working toward achieving a sustainable fishery alongside the protection of the Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA).

Why Poole Harbour?

Poole Harbour is an important commercial fishing port on the south coast of the UK ideally situated for exporting shellfish. The fisheries within the harbour are an important contributor to the local economy, supporting jobs on the shore as well as on the water. In the 2015 fishing season the value at first sale of the fishery was estimated at over £1million. The Southern IFCA has been working with the fishing industry to implement a management scheme which promotes sustainable fishing for clams and cockles alongside sustainable management of the environment within a protected site. This project will further that work toward sustainable management of both the fishery and the environment, recognising the hard work and commitment shown by the industry and regulators towards achieving best practice.

The direction of Southern IFCA’s management work was helped and informed by the work of Project Inshore in Poole Harbour over the course of three years. Project Inshore was set up in 2012 to map all of the English small-scale fisheries together for the first time and provide tailored sustainability plans for each of them. Small, coastal boats make up nearly three quarters of England's fishing fleet, yet with relatively small landings per vessel and varying market conditions it is hard to attract investment for scientific research, so fishing data on most of the fisheries just didn't exist. Project Inshore worked with the Poole Harbour clam and cockle fishery to assess what data existed in the area and where there were gaps. The Southern IFCA took on board the issues raised and created the management scheme to fill these gaps.

RFS progression

RFS certification will enable skippers to demonstrate that they comply with industry-agreed best practice in their fishing operations, and will give their customers the confidence that they are buying from vessels receiving independent and robust third-party verification. This project also presents an opportunity to demonstrate how the RFS can add value to this sector of the domestic fleet. A locally based facilitator has been appointed to work with the skippers within the fishery to support them in preparation for RFS certification audits, which will take place at the same time as the fishery progresses through the MSC certification process. The project will allow Seafish to collate feedback from the fleet which will be used to further refine the RFS certification process and supporting materials for smaller vessels.

Stakeholder input

The MSC certification of this fishery is expected to take between 12-18 months and will be conducted by independent certifier, ME Certification Ltd (MEC).

Michael Bacon, RFS Fleet manager, Seafish said: “It is great to see the appointment of a consultant who will be available to answer skipper queries and support them in preparing for their RFS audits. This is a great step forward which we hope leads to the first certification of a defined fleet of vessels into the scheme.”

Robert Clark, Chief Officer of Southern IFCA, said: "Southern IFCA has worked hard with the fishing community and other local interests to ensure a balance in the fishery between social, environmental and economic considerations with the aim to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry. We are pleased to be working with the Poole fishermen to gain certification of their fishery, against these internationally recognised criteria, and through this ensure that the improvements made to the fishery are visible at the market."

[1] MSC’s pre-assessment stage is optional. It identifies any potential challenges for certification. If the pre-assessment is positive a fishery may decide to proceed directly to full assessment. Alternatively, a fishery may first address the issues that need improvement through an action plan, before entering full assessment.

[2] This in indicative as this was from the pre-assessment stage. This does not guarantee that the fishery will gain MSC certification or that it will score highly in the aforementioned scoring markers.