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At the end of October 2022, we will publish the MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0. The new Standard means significant changes for the sustainable certification of tuna fisheries.

Dr Rohan Currey, Chief Science & Standards Officer at the MSC presented on the implications of the new MSC Fisheries Standard to tuna fisheries at the World Tuna Conference in Bangkok on 12 October 2022. Watch the video below. 

Beneath the video is a Q&A with Dr Currey, where he answers some of the most pertinent questions about the new Standard in relation to tuna.

Q&A

Why has tuna been given special attention in the review of the MSC Fisheries Standard?

The MSC Fisheries Standard is designed to be applied to all wild-capture fisheries. However, some of the most important changes will have implications for tuna fisheries.

What are the most important challenges impacting tuna fisheries and how have these been addressed?

The Fisheries Standard Review considered five important areas which have particular relevance to tuna fisheries:

  • Shark finning
    Tuna fisheries often interact with sharks. The MSC’s requirements already prohibit shark finning within certified fisheries. To give greater confidence that shark finning is not taking place, the new requirements mandate a Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) policy for all certified fisheries that retain sharks.
  • Lost FADs
    Fishing with Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) makes tuna fishing more efficient but can have negative environmental impacts. Technological advances such as satellite tracking, using biodegradable materials and designing non-entangling FADs, mean that these impacts can be reduced. The new Standard includes new requirements for preventing and reducing the impact of lost FADs.
  • Impacts on endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species
    Like most fishing activities, tuna fisheries often encounter endangered, protected or threaten (ETP) species. New requirements will ensure such species are consistently classified as ETP and afforded greater protections by certified fisheries.
  • Higher levels of monitoring and surveillance
    Tuna fisheries spend long periods at sea making it more challenging for land-based authorities to monitor their activities. Fisheries managed by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), which include purse seine and longline tuna fisheries, will now be required to have higher levels of surveillance.
  • Multijurisdictional fisheries management
    One of the most important changes for tuna fisheries is a set of new requirements for fisheries managed by RFMOs to deliver state of the art harvest strategies. These management measures are essential to ensuring the long-term sustainability of shared tuna stocks by providing a pre-agreed harvest objective and a ‘safety-net’ to reduce catch if stocks begin to decline. Agreement on harvest strategies has been notoriously difficult to achieve, requiring alignment between multiple states representing their own national interests.

Why are the previous requirements for harvest control rules no longer considered best practice for fisheries managed by RFMOs?

In-depth consultation with tuna experts, fisheries scientists and management organisations identified two important challenges with the MSC’s current requirements for harvest strategies.

Firstly, RFMOs, including those that manage tuna, have struggled to develop and implement harvest strategies and harvest control rules. The slow and complex nature of international negotiations can stall efforts to implement these important agreements to safeguard tuna stocks. Against the background of MSC certification, the lack of development and implementation of effective harvest strategies can lead to the loss of MSC certification, which impacts the ability of our programme to drive change and secure the long-term sustainability for RFMO fisheries. This is most pertinent in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) where MSC certified tuna fisheries are now at risk of suspension in June 2023.

Secondly, even when harvest control rules have been agreed in RFMOs, the absence of constraint mechanisms has meant that they have not always been successful in reducing catches or fishing effort in line with scientific advice when a stock has begun to decline. We saw this happen with skipjack in the Indian Ocean, following the adoption of a harvest control rule in 2016.

What more can the MSC do to influence change on the water for tuna fisheries?

The MSC spent two years consulting experts on how to better incentivise RFMO managed fisheries, including tuna fisheries and governments on a collective journey towards adopting harvest strategies.

There is growing consensus in the scientific and fisheries communities that the best way to achieve agreement on effective harvest strategies is through a method known as Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE).

MSE is a collaborative process between scientists, decision-makers, industry and NGOs. It involves using computer simulation to compare the relative ability of different fisheries management strategies to achieve a set of objectives, such as preventing a stock from declining. It allows delegations to understand the trade-offs between different options and to reach consensus on a set of rules that offer the best overall outcomes for everyone involved.

Catch and effort constraints were also identified as vital parts of harvest strategies that need to be agreed upfront before any declines in a currently healthy stock.

Taking the feedback onboard, and following pilot assessments, the MSC developed a new set of requirements which set a shared timeline for all certified RFMO managed fisheries that target the same stock. The requirements aim to create a unified effort involving NGOs, governments, industry and the scientific community towards agreement and implementation of state-of-the-art harvest strategies.

Why are you giving more time for certified tuna fisheries to deliver these requirements and avoid suspension?

In recognition of the significant increase in expectations and the time required to reach these agreements, fisheries with previously certified stocks will be given an additional five years to deliver the new level of performance required. Fisheries targeting stocks that have not been certified before, will have 10 years to implement state of the art harvest strategies.

The MSC's Board agreed to allow an additional five years for already certified fisheries to meet the requirements of version 3 of the MSC Fisheries Standard provided certain criteria were met:

  • There must be majority agreement from all fisheries on a certified stock to undertake early application of the new requirements.
  • All certified fisheries targeting the same stock will be put on the same timeline for delivering state-of-the-art harvest strategies, creating a unified effort to influence RFMO decisions.
  • All fisheries that undertake early application of the new requirements early will be assessed to the new Standard at their next reassessment. This means early adoption of all other requirements including those for FADs, shark finning, ETP and monitoring.

The MSC's Board agreed that, in combination, these requirements present a significant increase in expectations of these fisheries’ sustainability performance and the highest possible chance of securing state of the art harvest strategies.

What are the implications of this change for fisheries in the WCPO?

So far, the 26 member states of the Western Central Pacific Tuna Commission (WCPFC), the RFMO for the Western Pacific, have been unable to reach an agreement on harvest strategies, putting the MSC certification of 33 globally important tuna fisheries in the WCPO at risk of suspension.

The best way to ensure ongoing certification of these fisheries remains for harvest strategies to be adopted before June 2023, allowing current conditions of certification to be closed.

Following positive progress at the 2022 Science Committee and Science Management Dialogue for the WCPFC, the adoption of harvest strategies for skipjack at the December 2022 annual meeting of the WCPFC would be a significant step forward in ensuring the long-term future of tuna fisheries in the region.

Unfortunately, decisions for other tuna species managed by the WCPFC have been delayed beyond June 2023, making the suspension of certification of these fisheries to the current version of the MSC Standard increasingly likely.

The requirements outlined above now give these fisheries an opportunity to remain certified but will require a significant collective effort and fisheries to raise their performance across all sustainability indicators in the new Standard. The indications are that the majority of these fisheries are prepared to put differences aside to apply the MSC’s new requirements early. If this happens, these fisheries could remain MSC certified for another five years at the same time as combining their efforts to influence a breakthrough on state-of-the-art harvest strategies, delivering a robust long-term sustainability outcome for these stocks and increasing wider protections on marine ecosystems.

With MSC certified fisheries representing 18 fishing nations and 75% of tuna catch in the WCPO, the shared milestones for delivering harvest strategies for tuna stocks would create a powerful push in the WCPFC.

The MSC will support fisheries on this journey, working closely with our NGO, government, industry and supply chain partners to play our part in influencing collective change which safeguards our precious ocean. 

Sustainable Tuna Handbook

Sustainable Tuna Handbook

A guide to sustainable tuna fishing and sourcing, with 2022 updates.