Growing interest in certification in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region
Interest in the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainable fisheries certification programme is rising quickly in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region, reflecting the recent increase in consumer concern about seafood production and its impact on the marine environment.
The council’s Sydney office, which covers Australia, New Zealand and Asia-Pacific excluding Japan, is reporting a surge in requests over the past two years for initial pre-assessment reviews by fishery producers in Australia and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, most of which are interested in applying for MSC certification.A growing number of fisheries see MSC certification as an important opportunity to assure local consumers and those in export markets that their fishery products comply with approved practices that support sustainable production. MSC certification also is used by restaurants and retailers in marketing to show the provenance of their products, aware that some consumers are willing to pay a premium for seafood that is produced in a sustainable manner.
The increase in applications for MSC pre-assessment reviews marks an upturn for MSC’s programme in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Interest in MSC initially was slow to develop in Australia after the Western Australia rock lobster fishery became the world’s first fishery to gain MSC accreditation in March 2000. Since then four more fisheries in Australia and New Zealand have gained MSC certification along with three fisheries in Asia.
Leap in interest
The past few years have seen a leap in interest, however, with nine more fisheries now at the assessment stage for MSC accreditation across the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, more than 40 fisheries have undergone or are preparing to enter the preliminary pre-assessment stage, a clear sign of fishery producers’ growing interest in proving their sustainable fishery credentials to environmentally aware consumers.
According to Patrick Caleo, Marine Stewardship Council manager for Australia and New Zealand, around 35 fisheries have entered the MSC pre-assessment stage during the past 18 months in Australia alone, including a sizable number of commonwealth and state fisheries.
Applications for MSC accreditation and pre-assessment are expected to grow in future as more fishery companies seek to provide customers and consumers with evidence of their sustainable practices.
“Australia does a good job in managing its fisheries but seafood buyers around the world are increasingly making commitments to sourcing seafood with third-party verification of its sustainability,” Caleo commented. “There are a lot of well managed fisheries here, and certification to the MSC standard will enable fisheries to demonstrate they are doing the right thing and compete on an equal footing in a fast-growing global market for certified sustainable seafood.”
Australia has a large number of relatively small fisheries that generally operate on an individual state basis. This is expected to make adoption of MSC accreditation slower for Australia’s fishery industry as a whole compared with countries which have a smaller number of large fisheries such as New Zealand.
About 35 pre-assessments for MSC certification have taken place in Australia so far with more due to take place this year.
“The fisheries involved vary in size. The large ones are looking at large commercial fish species,” Caleo noted. “Australia’s fisheries are low volume, high value fisheries. Most exports are prawns, lobster and abalone, so it is a very important sector. Fisheries also are culturally important as Australia is a coastal society.”
The three certified Australian fisheries are the Western Australia rock lobster, Australia mackerel icefish, and the South Australia lakes and Coorong fisheries.
The Western Australia rock lobster fishery was recertified in 2006 and involves the use of baited pots along a 1,000km stretch of coastline from Cape Leeuwin south of Perth to Shark Bay in the north. Around 10,750 metric tons (mt) of lobster are produced each year mainly for export to China, Taiwan, Japan and the United States generating about Aus$400 million annually, accounting for 20% of the total value of Australia’s fisheries.
The Australia mackerel icefish fishery is much smaller by contrast and involves the use of a single trawler. Certified in 2006, the fishery produces about 1,000mt of icefish a year using bottom and mid-water trawling. Located off Heard Island and McDonald Islands, a volcanic group in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the fishery is situated 4,000km southwest of Perth, Western Australia, close to Antarctica.
The South Australia lakes and Coorong fisheries, meanwhile, was certified in 2008 and covers an area including the Coorong Lagoon, Lake Alexandria and Lake Albert near Adelaide, South Australia, and adjacent waters in the Southern Ocean extending 150km south from Goolwa Beach to Kingston Jetty.
Net fishing, long lines and drop lines are used to catch golden perch, yellow-eyed mullet and mulloway of which about 100mt is caught of each species annually while cockle rakes are used to produce about 600mt of cockles yearly.
Seafood consumption increasing
“Seafood consumption is increasing in Australia and demand for fishery materials is growing. Consumer demand for a sustainable choice also is growing,” Caleo remarked, “The demographics are changing – Australia is increasingly multicultural. Health consciousness also is driving seafood consumption. About 70% of seafood here is imported. We have no wild salmon, for example. Also, there is a big demand for commodity fish which are not present in our waters.”
Two more Australian fisheries are under assessment at present.
The South Australia Spencer Gulf king prawn fishery aims to become the first MSC certified prawn fishery in Australia. The assessment will cover 37 member vessels of the Spencer Gulf and West Coast Prawn Fishermen’s Association that are licensed to fish for king prawns (Penaeus (Merlicertus) latisulcatus) in the Spencer Gulf waters of South Australia.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is supporting the certification application by acting as a co-client with the fishermen’s association.
Spencer Gulf king prawn fishery covers a relatively small area, about 15% of the Spencer Gulf waters, and has been a restricted access fishery since 1968. The annual catch is about 2,000mt with fishing restricted to six months of the year and only 14 nights per month. As part of their sustainable fishery activities, member fishermen target larger size prawns which are caught for export to markets worldwide.
The Heard Island and McDonald Islands toothfish fishery, also under assessment, is located near the Australia mackerel icefish fishery off Heard Island and McDonald Islands, in the middle of the Southern Ocean near Antartica, some 4,000km southwest of Perth, Western Australia.
The total average annual catch is about 2,500mt using trawl and long line fishing methods. The catch is exported to the United States, Japan, China and Eastern Europe.
The Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organisation set up to promote solutions to the problem of overfishing. Caleo noted that MSC runs the only eco-labeling and certification programme for wild capture fisheries that is consistent with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards and United Nations FAO guidelines for fisheries certification.
Independent, third-party certification bodies assess whether fisheries meet the council’s certification criteria and to identify changes that need to be made to achieve certification.
“Fisheries seeking certification do a pre-assessment first. If they score well they can move to full assessment while others may have work to do in complying before they start full assessment. Others need to do a more comprehensive review of their practices,” Caleo explained. “Full assessment can be expensive depending on the complexity of the business structure and the management system; also, how many aspects of the fishery are being assessed such as catching methods and other things.”
Full assessment focuses on three principle areas: the state of the targeted fish stock; the fishery’s wider environmental impact on the ecosystem and the fishery’s management system, in particular its robustness, legal creditability and ability to respond to change.
“Most of growth of interest in MSC certification is driven by the market at a business to business level,” Caleo pointed out. “Overseas buyers are asking for MSC certification. However, not all people approaching MSC to inquire about certification are exporters. There is local interest in sustainability. Australian consumers are asking about sustainability and other issues. They want to know more about products they buy.”
The public increasingly are relying on retailers and food processors to make a choice for them as consumers now are overwhelmed with information. MSC certification is becoming important as it helps consumers make decisions – it gives them reassurance. Retailers like this as well.”
Although increasingly coveted, Caleo pointed out that achieving MSC certification requires commitment by those involved in the individual fishery.
“There is a cost to fishery producers and food retailers adopting MSC certified sustainable practices so this is something to consider; also, the change in practices needed,” Caleo explained. “For retailers there can be a lot of changes in fishery sourcing and they have to understand the sustainability issues involved. For fisheries producers can involve changes in fishery practices.”
Meanwhile, interest in MSC certification also is growing among New Zealand’s fishery producers. Two New Zealand fisheries are certified already while five others are under full assessment.
The two already accredited are the Ross Sea toothfish fishery and the New Zealand Hoki fishery which is managed as two stocks producing about 90,000mt a year, which originally was certified in 2001 and then recertified in October 2007.
The five fisheries under full assessment include the New Zealand albacore tuna troll fishery with an average annual catch of 3,000mt, most of which is exported for canning; also, the New Zealand southern scallop fishery which has an annual fishing quota of almost 750mt, most of which is exported to France.
The other fisheries are the New Zealand EEZ southern blue whiting pelagic trawl fishery which has a total allowable commercial catch of around 36,800mt a year; also, the New Zealand EEZ hake trawl fishery which has a total allowable commercial catch of around 12,500mt a year; and the New Zealand ling trawl and long line fishery which has a total allowable commercial catch of around 18,000mt a year, most of which is exported.
“New Zealand is high volume fisheries for export, with processing in New Zealand and China. New Zealand producers are interested in MSC as they are more export focused,” Caleo explained. “Most fisheries in New Zealand are large scale. The government has funds available to support MSC assessment costs.”
Accreditation growing in Asia-Pacific
Meanwhile, interest in MSC accreditation also is growing elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region including among the large number of fishery processing companies in China. Processors also are interested in Chain of Custody certification as many export their products and need to comply with fishery traceability requirements to supply key markets in Europe, the United States, Japan and elsewhere.
Some 235 Chain of Custody certificates have been issued to fishery processors in the Asia-Pacific region so far including 163 to processors in China and 47 to Japan. In addition four certificates have been issued to processors in Australia, seven to New Zealand, eight to Thailand, five to Vietnam and one to Malaysia where local food company, Golden Fresh Co, recently launched three new MSC blue eco-labeled fish fillet products into the local retail market made from MSC certified Alaskan Pollock.
Three fisheries are certified in Asia at present – the Vietnam Ben Tre hand gathered clam fishery; the Japan Danish Seine Fishery Federation snow crab and flathead flounder fishery; and the Japan Tosakatsuo Suisan pole and line skipjack tuna fishery.
Two more fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region are under full assessment. These are the Japan scallop hanging and seabed enhanced fishery, and the large and important Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) skipjack tuna fishery managed by eight Pacific states which represents around 560,000mt of tuna annually and accounts for up to 50% of all skipjack tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific.
“There is a lot of possibility for MSC certification in China and Southeast Asia for export fisheries,” Caleo said. “We are currently talking with these fisheries about the potential challenges they may face when investigating certification, and to point them in the right direction in terms of seeking solutions. The demand is there in Asia for MSC products.”
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