MSC re-assessment kicks off in Cape Town

MSC re-assessment kicks off in Cape Town

Giuseppe Scarcella, Jim Andrews and Johanna Pierre will scrutinise every aspect of the management of the hake deep-sea trawl fishery and assess it against the MSC standard

The South African hake fishery was one of the first fisheries in the world to be certified as sustainable and well-managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It is still the only fishery in Africa to have achieved MSC certification. In October, the fourth re-assessment of the fishery began with a visit to Cape Town by the assessment team made up of Jim Andrews of the UK, Giuseppe Scarcella of Italy and Johanna Pierre of Australia.

Over the coming months, the assessment team will scrutinise every aspect of the fishery against the MSC Standard. Although assessing a fishery’s sustainability is a complex process, the concept behind the MSC Standard is simple – fishing operations should be conducted in ways that ensure the long-term health of fish populations, while the ecosystems they depend on remain healthy and productive to meet the needs of present and future generations.

The MSC Standard that will be applied in the fourth re-assessment is a more rigorous standard than was previously applied. It requires that more attention be paid to ecosystem issues – such as the effect that fishing has on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the management systems used to protect them – and it will deal with the possibility of stocks of hake being shared with neighbouring countries. These issues have raised some challenges, but SADSTIA is working hard to address them all.

The result of the re-assessment of the South African trawl fishery for hake is expected to be announced in May 2020.

The benefits of MSC certification

A study published in the journal Fisheries Research in 2016 found that the loss of MSC certification by the trawl fishery for hake would “lead directly to exclusion from vital, sorely won overseas outlets on which the present day industry is heavily dependent.” The authors, Philippe Lallemand, Mike Bergh, Margaret Hansen and Martin Purves, note that export markets for uncertified hake products are limited and that uncertified products are likely to achieve a much lower price. Therefore, under current market conditions, the loss of MSC certification would likely result in an oversupply of hake on the domestic market. The consequences would be:

  • Hake prices and market structure would be greatly affected, with a negative impact on shore-based employment. In a worst case scenario, this could mean the loss of 1 421 skilled workers, or 32.5% of those employed in hake processing.
  • A considerable decrease in the contribution of the hake trawl industry to South Africa’s gross domestic product − the decline would be between 28.3% and 54.3%.

Why the MSC and not another seafood sustainability certification programme?

A study undertaken by the international conservation organisation WWF in 2012 that compared seafood sustainability certification schemes, found that the MSC is the most compliant with international sustainability criteria. The WWF report compared four certification programmes for wild-caught fish, building on a previous study that compared 17 seafood sustainability certification programmes. The earlier report revealed poor performance and serious inadequacies in a number of eco-labels and cast doubt on their overall contribution to effective fisheries management and sustainability. The 2012 report made use of the same criteria as the previous study and added two more with the purpose of determining the extent to which the schemes are responding to the changing expectations of consumers, how wild fish stocks should be maintained and the standards to which credible certification schemes should aspire. The MSC scored the highest of all four schemes against both the original 2009 criteria and the new criteria.

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