Small Islands, Large Ocean

rupert

By Rupert Howes, Chief Executive Officer, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

PNA

Just before Christmas 2011, an announcement was published that many in the fishing industry had been eagerly awaiting. After two years of rigorous assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council’s standard for sustainable fishing, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Western and Central Pacific skipjack tuna had achieved certification.

You may never have heard of PNA, the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery. But together, the waters of these eight small island nations of Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu provide 50% of the world’s total skipjack, the type of tuna which often ends up in sandwiches and salads.

Eating your way to sustainable solutions may seem somewhat unusual, but consumers in Europe, where much of this tinned skipjack ends up, can help protect the oceans and support livelihoods 7,000 miles away by choosing a tin of tuna or pack of sandwiches with the blue MSC ecolabel.

Consumers aren’t just making a choice for sustainable seafood, they are making an investment in the future of the world’s fish stocks for generations to come.

MSC’s program was designed to reward fisheries for fishing sustainably and incentivise others to follow their example. It is also the only global sustainable seafood initiative that systematically reports on the improvements that fisheries are making – from changes in gear type to increased data collection, an essential part of fisheries management. So far, there have been 575 recorded benefits, with a further 650 to follow by 2020.

Consumers aren’t just making a choice for sustainable seafood, they are making an investment in the future of the world’s fish stocks for generations to come.

MSC-certified PNA skipjack tuna is caught without Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) to reduce bycatch of juveniles and endangered species. PNA also introduced closures to fishing on the high seas, bans on setting nets within a nautical mile of whale sharks and 100% observer coverage on purse seine fishing vessels.

But PNA’s work does not end with certification. Skipjack stocks in the Western and Central Pacific are at healthy levels but maintaining certification requires the fishery to undergo annual audits to check its progress on conditions to allow skipjack stocks to recruit and limitations on ecosystem impacts.

PNA is not alone, but one of a growing cohort of fisheries based in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) seeking to achieve certification. Introduction of tori lines to avoid seabird bycatch, turtle relief gear and training for crew on bycatch release helped Fiji’s longline albacore fishery achieve certification in 2012.

Certification expanded the Fijian fishery’s range of export markets and it is the first Pacific tuna fishery to sell its premium loins to Europe.

Sustainability credentials can often be a valuable differentiator for export markets in developed countries. In 2013, the iconic Maldives pole and line skipjack fishery became MSC-certified to help secure routes to market.
In the Maldives, fishing is an essential part of livelihoods, accounting for 6% of its GDP, 11% of employment and 98% of the country’s export commodities. Kalhubilamas, as Maldivians call skipjack, comprise around 70% of the total catch.

Despite their geographic remoteness, these ‘large ocean nations’ are really at the centre of global issues such as climate change and safeguarding fish stocks.

As these fisheries succeed in the MSC program, so others will follow their example. An albacore longline fishery based in the Cook Islands is approaching the end of assessment and the Seychelles, Mauritius and Indonesia, the world’s largest fishing nation, have also expressed interest in engaging with the MSC to improve access to markets in the developed world.

SIDS & Globalisation

As the world’s most traded food commodity, seafood has a greater economic importance in the developing world than other commodities such as coffee, tea, bananas, cocoa, rice and rubber.

Globalisation also exposes these fishing island nations to volatility on the global markets, so secure long-term contracts are vital for the economy. Third party certification like the MSC program that recognises and rewards good fisheries management can secure economic stability through access to export markets, while sustaining livelihoods and providing food in the region.

Despite their geographic remoteness, these ‘large ocean nations’ are really at the centre of global issues such as climate change and safeguarding fish stocks. And as the world’s populations boom towards 9.6bn by 2050, their role will only grow in importance by proving that sustainability is no longer a choice; it is the only option in protecting the oceans and the livelihoods of those who rely on them.

 

Rupert Howes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Marine Stewardship Council, which operates the world’s leading certification standard for sustainable seafood.

For more information, please visit www.msc.org.