FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, May 16th, 2017
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Just over a year after the first cod fishery in Atlantic Canada was certified as sustainable by the global Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – and perhaps ironically on the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Northern cod – the client has voluntarily suspended its eco-certification. In March 2016, the certification was celebrated as evidence that the 3Ps cod stock, geographically located off southern Newfoundland, is recovering. The initial certification raised concerns among conservation organizations.
The suspension is a sign that the stock is not doing as well as was thought at the time of certification, and marks a setback for attempts to market Atlantic cod as sustainable. As of May 12, the client group Icewater Seafoods and Ocean Choice International, are no longer able to use the MSC ‘certified sustainable’ eco-label on newly-landed cod.
"While we fully support efforts to both achieve and celebrate improvements in sustainable fisheries, we had deep concerns about this cod stock throughout the certification process. Suffice it to say we are not at all surprised that the issues we raised last year, including low bar for recovery, evidence of poor stock health and a high rate of mortality, have not gone away," says Susanna Fuller, Senior Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. "Quota levels had been set well above what was actually being caught for the past 10 years, and the rules in place to reduce these catch levels were inappropriate, in our view."
The 3PS cod stock was the only depleted species in Canada – considered Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) – with a formal Conservation Plan and Rebuilding Strategy, as noted by the 2016 Auditor General’s Report on “Sustaining Canada’s Major Fish Stocks.”
The most recent assessment of the 3Ps cod stock indicated that the population was declining. As a result, the rules for setting future quotas contained in the Conservation Plan and Rebuilding Strategy were abandoned. “It is now clear that the plan should have received more rigorous testing and peer review before implementation. In addition, the rebuilding target in that plan was unrealistically low and it should be reconsidered,” says Alan Sinclair, a retired fisheries scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada who assisted the EAC in their objection in 2016.
"While eco-certifications are increasingly being used to demonstrate that a fishery is sustainable, it is clear that in this case, the certification overestimated the state of the stock and the reliability of the management plan,” says Fuller. “At the first annual audit it became apparent that most of the original scoring needs to be re-evaluated and the fishery would likely not meet the minimum requirement for certification, which we expect is the reason for the client to suspend -all issues we raised last year.”
While the Ecology Action Centre will continue to participate in the MSC certification process by submitting comments on certification reports and filing objections when warranted, achieving conservation may be more beneficial by focusing on fisheries management processes.
“In the case of 3Ps cod, many of our comments and our formal objection had little to no impact on the final certification report. The recent suspension of certification leads one to think more attention should have been given to our input – or that the stakeholder process is not a mechanism through which to achieve change,” says Fuller. “Agreement this year, through the DFO stock assessment process, that the rebuilding plan was not working indicates that other avenues for sustainability improvements should be pursued.”
Information on the Ecology Action Centre and David Suzuki Foundation objection to 3Ps Cod certification can be found here: https://ecologyaction.ca/
Figure 1. from Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2017 Stock Assessment, showing total allowable catch set well above target levels, and fishery certified at second lowest catch levels in fishing history.
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