MSC certification of Ross Sea toothfish challenged

Toothfish Toothfish

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) has opposed the proposed Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of the Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery.

In December 2009 ASOC submitted a formal objection to the proposed certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery by Moody Marine, Ltd, arguing that the scarcity of information about the stock and a lack of scientific rigour in the assessment make certification unjustifiable. ASOC also argued that certification would undermine ongoing efforts to have the Ross Sea established as a fully-protected marine reserve. On 15 December the Adjudicator ruled that serious issues were raised by ASOC and thus an appeal could proceed. The Adjudicator will now consider all the evidence before making a final determination on whether or not the fishery should be certified as sustainable by the MSC.

In proposing to certify the fishery, Moody Marine is said to have ignored the scientific views of its hand-picked peer reviewers, as well as detailed scientific concerns raised by 39 marine scientists from seven nations who have worked in the Ross Sea for decades and information provided by ASOC, Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations. The scientists said that certification of the fishery as "sustainable" is scientifically indefensible.

The new ASOC brief sets out a number of problems with the assessment including:

  • Available information on the life history of Antarctic toothfish is very limited, and therefore the body regulating Southern Ocean fishing - CCAMLR - classifies the fishery as ‘exploratory’ rather than ‘fully assessed’.
  • So little is known about the Antarctic toothfish’s life history that neither eggs nor larvae have ever been found. It is not even known how often the fish reproduce. 
  • The age at which toothfish mature is uncertain, but far older than most fish, making it especially at risk of adult mortality and overfishing, with adults being targeted by the fishery. 
  • Moody Marine ignored the substantive criticisms of experienced peer reviewers with long backgrounds in fisheries science and management.
  • Moody Marine refused to provide ASOC key documents that it used in the assessment, in spite of the Adjudicator approving ASOC's document request. But the Adjudicator has no power to compel disclosure of documents.

MSC rules require that ASOC, a non-profit, non-commercial public interest organisation, pay GBP15,000 up front in order for the Independent Adjudicator to proceed with the case. That fee was paid under protest. Even if ASOC wins the appeal, the MSC keeps the money.

In 2008, an independent analysis of human impacts on the world's oceans published in the journal Science classified the Ross Sea as the least affected oceanic ecosystem remaining on Earth.

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