Consumer demand for certified sustainable seafood has driven real improvements in the way fisheries are managed.
The London-based MSC’s ambitious goal is to certify 20 percent of the global marine catch by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030, according to its just released annual report.
In New Zealand, that target has been far exceeded already.
Twenty three fisheries across eight species now have MSC endorsement, around 50 percent of New Zealand’s total wild marine catch.
That includes deepwater hoki, hake, ling, southern blue whiting, orange roughy, Ross Sea toothfish and albacore and skipjack tuna.
It is not practical or economic to put all of the country’s commercial species through the protracted MSC process but that does not mean they are not fished sustainably.
The overwhelming majority of our fish stocks are in good shape. We know the status of 169 stocks and of these, 142 are sustainable, according to Fisheries New Zealand scientists.
New Zealand consistently rates in the world’s top four fisheries – along with Iceland, Norway and the US – in terms of abundance of fisheries stocks and quality of management, according to Prof Ray Hilborn of Washington University’s School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences.
Hoki, which has by far the largest landings, has been MSC certified since 2001.
All fisheries, once certified, must undergo annual audits and be fully reassessed every five years to ensure they continue to meet the required high international standards.
MSC is recognised as the gold standard of global seafood eco-certification schemes.
It was established in 1996 in a partnership between retailer Unilever, concerned about fish supplies, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Third party experts conduct a rigorous independent assessment of the fishery’s performance against three principles – stock sustainability, environmental impacts and ongoing management.
Addressing unsustainable fishing is an urgent challenge at a time when the growing global population needs low carbon protein more than ever, MSC chief executive Rupert Howes said.
“Yet a third of fish stocks are overexploited and the ocean faces unprecedented threats from global warming, acidification and plastic pollution.”
Sustainable management of tuna fisheries, one of the world’s most popular seafoods, is a priority.
An estimated 57 percent of commercial tuna stocks are considered healthy but tuna stocks are under increasing pressure.
New Zealand’s skipjack purse seine fishery, operated by Talley’s, achieved certification for the first time in 2017.
“By gaining MSC certification for our skipjack fishery we have not only gained a competitive edge in the market, for which the MSC label is in high demand, but we have also shown that we are fishing responsibly and sustainably,” Talley’s fleet manager Andy Smith is quoted in the MSC annual report.
“In doing so we are providing the assurance to the public at large, and to our local fishing communities in particular, that we are committed to maintaining our fishery resources in a healthy state for future generations.”
So, with the science and the management in good shape, what is the reality for those on the water?
For Nelson fisherman Tony Roach it has never been better.
“Our catch effort is going down all the time,” he says in the latest Seafood magazine.
“We’re doing less days at sea, less days fishing and we’re catching our quota easier every year – our fish stocks are getting better.”