A big developing story in the world of spiny dogfish and fisheries management has been the petition to have the Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery MSC-certified for sustainability. I’ve been following this story as information becomes available. Adding some drama to the mix are accusations that the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification process may be influenced more by bureaucracy than science, which is troublesome to hear when a long-lived, slow-growing species is the focus of the fishery. However, it’s one thing to report on what others are saying, and another to try and find out for yourself, so I made use of the contact information provided by the MSC’s website.
One thing I’m happy to report is that the MSC does make an effort to be reasonably transparent in how they go about certifying a fishery. Ian Scott, the contact person for Moody Marine, Ltd., who are performing the sustainability assessment for the dogfish fishery, was kind enough to respond to some questions I had regarding how these assessments are conducted and what being certified as a sustainable fishery may mean for spiny dogfish and other sharks.
My questions are in bold, his answers are in italics.
How many sustainability assessments have been performed by Moody Marine, Ltd. for the Marine Stewardship Council? Which fisheries were they?
MSC certifications are completed by independent third party auditors known as certifying bodies (CB). CB themselves have to be accredited as having the capacity to undertake the work and meet the various conditions. In addition the work of the CBs is audited by an independent auditing company contracted by MSC. From the MSC web site , I note that there are 9 accredited CBs and 3 in process (http://www.msc.org/get-certified/find-a-certifier/fisheries-assessments). Off hand, I do not know how many of the 101 certified fisheries and the 131 fisheries undergoing assessment in the MSC programme were completed by Moody, but on the basis of my understanding I would hazard that Moody has completed the most of any CB. A complete list of the certified fisheries can be seen at http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/certified and those in process at http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/in-assessment. Details show the CB responsible for each certification.
What criteria usually need to be fulfilled in order for a fishery to be certified as sustainable, and what would you be looking for specifically in the spiny dogfish fishery?
The three principles against which the fisheries are assessed are: (P1) the impact of a fishery on the target species; (P2) the impact of the fishery on other elements of the ecosystem; and (P3) the management system established to ensure the sustainability under the other two principles. We are not looking at anything in particular in the dogfish fishery; we will audit the fishery against the MSC principles and criteria. Each principle comprises a number of performance indicators (PIs). These PIs are scored out of 100 on the basis of how the UoC (see below) meets the standard. If the average score for each principle is 80 or above, a fishery is certified. If a principle fails to achieve an average score of 80 a fishery fails. If individual PIs fail to achieve a score of 80 – but score 60 or above – then if each principle scores 80 or above a fishery is certified but with conditions on that certification. Clients respond to conditions by defining an action plan that describes how the PI in question will achieve a score of 80 or above within a defined time period (no longer than 5 years). It is for the CB to accept this action plan and audit progress towards its achievement each year. As far as I am aware, to date no fishery has been certified without conditions.
What methods will be used to carry out this assessment?
For each assessment the usual approach is for a nominated three man assessment team to complete the audit – one expert for each principle, one of which has experience in audits and is nominated the lead. The MSC process requires that the audit process be transparent and incorporate to the extent possible the views of stakeholders. The first step is for a new assessment to be announced , along with the proposed team and the approach (the fisheries assessment methodology or the risk based framework developed to deal with fisheries where data is deficient and not enough to complete the traditional approach). Stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on each of these announcements. After a pre-defined period, the site visit is announced. CBs will have identified stakeholders and will contact them directly, but each announcement is posted on the MSC web site. On the site visit the team meets (i) those stakeholders who have requested a meeting to present their views on the possibility of certification (either for or against) and (ii) knowledgeable persons who can present the evidence needed in order to audit the fisheries and put this in context. Stakeholders may also make written presentations if they so wish. After the site visit the auditors go away and write their report and review all the evidence as collected on the site visit or identified on the internet. Once the draft is complete the team meets to score the fishery. The scoring is included in the first draft of the report that is sent to the client for comment. The auditors review client comments and amend the draft as considered appropriate. Note however that the auditors are independent; they are not obliged to accept the clients comments. Indeed at this stage it is possible for the client to disagree with the findings of the auditors and withdraw from the process. I have not heard of this happening. Subsequent drafts of the report are reviewed by peer reviewers (version 2) and stakeholders (version 3). The auditors are obliged to consider each comment and detail their response and the report is edited as considered appropriate. The auditors send their recommendation on certification to the Governing body of Moody which makes a determination. This determination is posted on the MSC web site to give the opportunity for interested stakeholders to object. If there is an objection there is a well defined MSC process to handle this including the contracting of an independent adjudicator. Assuming the process is successful a fishery is certified for 5 years but in that period it is audited each year to ensure that the situation has not changed. Certification takes the fish to the first point of sale; subsequent steps in the distribution chain (where ownership changes of the product is transformed) are subject to chain of custody audits in order to reduce the risk of certified fish being mixed with non-certified product.
To your knowledge, have any fisheries been rejected by the MSC for sustainability certification? If so, on what grounds?
As far as I know two fisheries have failed an assessment but there may be more. The most recent was in St Helena. See http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/in-assessment/south-atlantic/St.-Helena-pole-line-and-rod-line-yellowfin-bigeye-albacore-and-skipjack-tuna. It should be noted that it is usual for a client to have a pre assessment of a candidate fishery to identify the potential issues in any certification process and indicate whether it may be possible for a fishery to be certified. I have carried out a large number of pre assessments, and my recommendation for at least one-third of them was to not proceed to a main assessment. The details of pre assessments are confidential to the client. The certification process is expensive in term of both $ and time and represents a big commitment from clients.
If the spiny dogfish fishery is certified as sustainable, could this potentially create an opportunity for other shark and ray fisheries to become eligible for sustainability certification?
Not necessarily, each fishery would have to be audited against MSC principles and criteria.
Certification is of a unit of certification i.e. species, gear, sea area and management authority. For US spiny dogfish there are 24 UoC. For British Columbia spiny dog fish there are 2 UoC.
Thanks to Ian for taking the time to respond to my questions. For further information, check out the MSC’s Track A Fishery page for US Atlantic spiny dogfish, and of course keep checking back here too.
Full disclosure – the author is listed as a stakeholder for the Atlantic spiny dogfish sustainability assessment.