In its ongoing efforts to fine-tune its criteria for eco-labeling of fisheries, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recently invited public comment on its fishery assessment standards for endangered, threatened and protected species (ETP species). Because several longline and other fisheries that harm sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds are now being considered for eco-labeling, TIRN urged the MSC to strengthen its scoring and criteria for ETP species. Our detailed comments sbumitted for the October 8 deadline follow, and can also be downloaded as a PDF file here. Here is the link to MSC's public consultations website page.
October 8, 2010
Marine Stewardship Council
MSC Standards and Licensing Department
3rd floor, Mountbarrow House
6-20 Elizabeth Street
London SW1W 9RB, UK
RE: Public Consultation on default performance requirements for endangered, threatened, and protected species -- requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation
Dear Marine Stewardship Council,
Please accept these comments for your public consultation on default performance requirements for endangered, threatened and protected species and the requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation. Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) appreciates the opportunity to provide information on the specific consultation and also to offer some additional recommendations on the default performance requirements and scoring related to ETP species and Marine Stewardship Council certification of fisheries.
Turtle Island Restoration Project (TIRN) is an international non-profit environmental organization with offices in California, Texas, and Costa Rica. TIRN is the parent organization of Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP), Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) and GotMercury.org. The three projects focus on, respectively, sea turtle, ocean and fishery conservation; protection of endangered salmon in the Lagunitas Watershed of Marin County, California; and reducing human consumption of toxic mercury in seafood. TIRN’s mission is to take swift and decisive action to protect and restore marine species and their habitats and to inspire people in communities all over the world to join us as active and vocal marine species advocates.
TIRN is a registered stakeholder in the Southeast U.S. North Atlantic pelagic longline swordfish and bigeye-yellowfin tuna fishery assessment now being conducted by MRAG Americas, Inc. (MRAG) for certification under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) criteria. TIRN is also a stakeholder in the North West Atlantic Canada longline swordfish fishery assessment. TIRN is concerned about the assessment of these fisheries for possible certification due to the capture, injury and death of endangered and protected sea turtles on pelagic longlines utilized in the fisheries. TIRN expects to become more engaged with fishery assessments and MSC in the future, particularly wherever sea turtles and marine mammals are caught as bycatch.
Public consultation on requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation
In general, TIRN urges that the requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation mirror and exceed those of ETP species where national enacting legislation exists. The MSC fishery assessment standard must ensure that the fishery does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to ETP species; ensure that the fishery does not hinder recovery of ETP species; ensure that the fishery minimizes, prevents and eliminates mortality of ETP species; and does not add significantly to the harm from other human activities negatively impacting ETP species in the assessed and/or fishery as a whole. See details below for recommendations on how to enhance the standards based on TIRN’s current understanding of the MSC criteria and assessment process.
TIRN agrees with Marine Stewardship Council’s proposal that for ETP species without national legislation that the certification body evaluate the effects of all fishing activity (not just that of the fishery under assessment) on ETP species. Currently, fisheries can be assessed in sub-sections of the whole, such as in the Florida tuna and swordfish fishery, which could allow a large fishery with negative cumulative impacts on ETP species and the marine ecosystem to be certified as sustainable under the MSC. It also possible that multiple fisheries within a marine ecosystem could achieve certification one by one even if the cumulative impacts of the fisheries are negative to ETP species, habitat or the fishery resource as a whole.
In fact, TIRN urges MSC to incorporate the evaluation of all fishing activity on ETP species into the primary default performance requirements for all fishery assessments, whether or not national legislation exists.
TIRN would also recommend that MSC consider stronger overall standards for scoring the impacts to ETP species in fisheries given the decline of marine ecosystems and disappearing organisms due to a range of impacts including industrial fishing. TIRN suggests setting for the SG100 score a goal of zero bycatch of ETP species in a fishery as the overall goal of fishery certification. MSC will find model criteria to achieve this goal in the provisions contained in the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). See comment section below about U.S. rulemaking to regulating imported seafood for further explanation on the MMPA provisions.
As a first step, TIRN urges that the SG60 standard be eliminated as an acceptable scoring level for certification in the ETP species default performance standards for all fishery assessments, whether national legislation exists or not. The SG60 standard is far too low to ensure recovery, rebuilding and long-term survival of ETP species in certified fisheries, particularly for endangered and threatened sea turtles.
Below the detailed comments on the public consultation at hand, TIRN would also like to take this opportunity provides its perspective on the need to prioritize sea turtle and other ETP species performance standards in the MSC criteria for certified fisheries.
TIRN would also urge that MSC begin to consider seafood contamination within its performance criteria and develop a way to flag fish species that are certified but high in mercury, PCBs or other contaminants that should be considered by people relying on the MSC label for making seafood buying decisions.
Requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation
TIRN agrees with the intention of the MSC to establish requirements for assessment of ETP species in the absence of national enacting legislation.
Current language: 7.4.1 ETP (endangered, threatened or protected) species are those that are recognized by national legislation and/or binding international agreements (e.g. CITES) to which the jurisdictions controlling the fishery under assessment are party. The SGs refer to “national and international requirements” and “unacceptable impacts.” These terms relate to the requirements or impacts specified in relevant national legislation or binding international agreements.
MSC proposed new language: When there are no such requirements specified in relevant legislation or agreements related to management of impacts to ETP species, the term “unacceptable impacts” shall be interpreted as serious or irreversible harm to ETP species as defined for retained and bycatch species in paragraph 7.1.11.
TIRN proposed language: When there are no such requirements specified in relevant legislation or agreements related to management of impacts to ETP species, the term “unacceptable impacts‟ shall be interpreted as serious or irreversible harm to ETP species as defined for retained and bycatch species in paragraph 7.1.11 and also be assessed for unacceptable impacts under:
7.1.12 including “change caused by the fishery that fundamentally alters the capacity of the Component [ETP species] to maintain its function or to recover from the impact . . .
7.1.13 “do not hinder” recovery or rebuilding of the [ETP species] . . .
7.1.14 human impact from sources other than the assessed fishery on the [ETP specie., These human impacts from sources other than the assessed fishery, or fishery as a whole, should include long-term impacts such as climate change, plastic pollution and other cumulative negative externalities that occur in the fishery that added to fishery mortality could hinder the recovery or rebuilding of the ETP species.
Rationale: Given that the bycatch of ETP species by industrial fisheries is not well documented, additional criteria as described above will serve to strengthen the definition and determination of “unacceptable impacts” to an ETP species where no national legislation or management plans exist.
Current language: 7.4.3 At SG60 it is likely that the fishery meets the requirements of protection and rebuilding provided through national legislation or binding international agreements. Catches or mortality in excess of requirements for protection and rebuilding would only occasionally occur and the excess would be slight.
MSC proposed language: When there are no such requirements of protection and rebuilding provided through national legislation or binding international agreements, at SG60, known direct effects of all fishing activity are unlikely to cause serious or irreversible harm to ETP species.
TIRN proposal: When there are no such requirements of protection and rebuilding provided through national legislation or binding international agreements, at SG60, known direct effects of all fishing activity are unlikely to cause serious or irreversible harm to ETP species, must ensure that the fishery does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to ETP species; ensure that the fishery does not hinder recovery of ETP species; ensure that the fishery minimizes, prevents and eliminates mortality of ETP species; and does not add significantly to the harm from other human activities negatively impacting ETP species in the assessed and/or fishery as a whole.
Rationale: Assessing direct harm from fishery impacts to marine ETP species on its own does not provide a standard that is comprehensive enough to ensure the recovery, rebuilding and long-term survival of ETP species in certified fisheries.
As mentioned above, TIRN recommends that the SG60 standard be eliminated as an acceptable scoring level for certification in the ETP species default performance standards for all fishery assessments, whether national legislation exists or not. The SG60 standard is far too low to ensure recovery, rebuilding and long-term survival of ETP species in certified fisheries.
TIRN proposed similar language revisions for the next performance standard, SG80:
7.4.4 At SG80 it is highly likely that the fishery meets the requirements for protection and rebuilding set out in national legislation or binding international agreements. There is direct demonstration that requirements for protection and rebuilding are being achieved. When there are no such requirements of protection and rebuilding provided through national legislation or binding international agreements, at SG80, known direct effects of all fishing activity are highly unlikely to cause serious or irreversible harm to ETP species, ensure that the fishery does not hinder recovery of ETP species; ensure that the fishery minimizes, prevents and eliminates mortality of ETP species; and does not add significantly to the harm from other human activities negatively impacting ETP species in the assessed and/or fishery as a whole.
TIRN agrees with the proposal for the SG100 standard, and urges that SG100 with a criteria of “no ETP species caught” be established as the primary and preferred default performance standard for ETP species for all fishery assessments
7.4.5 SG100 requires full compliance with all requirements and for mortality from the fishery to be negligible. When there are no such requirements of protection and rebuilding provided through national legislation or binding international agreements, at SG100, there is a high degree of certainty that there are no significant detrimental effects (direct and indirect) of all fishing activity on ETP species. If there are no ETP species caught in the fishery then the fishery would meet the 100 SG.
ETP Species Management Strategy Performance Indicator (PI 2.3.2)
TIRN proposed revisions for PI 2.3.2a:
PI: There is a strategy in place for managing ETP species that is designed to ensure the fishery does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to ETP species, ensure that the fishery does not hinder recovery of ETP species; ensure that the fishery minimizes, prevents and eliminates mortality of ETP species; and does not add significantly to the harm from other human activities negatively impacting ETP species in the assessed and/or fishery as a whole.
SG60: Eliminate this as an acceptable scoring level for ETP species for certification.
Revise criteria: There are measures in place that are expected to ensure the fishery does not hinder the recovery and rebuilding of ETP species, ensure that the fishery does not hinder recovery of ETP species; ensure that the fishery minimizes, prevents and eliminates mortality of ETP species; and does not add significantly to the harm from other human activities negatively impacting ETP species in the assessed and/or fishery as a whole.
Revised criteria: The measures are considered likely to work, based on documentation, monitoring and observer data, and scientific data in the fishery or from similar fisheries/species.
SG80: Replace language with existing language under 2.3.2, except for language related to national legislation (ie, that is designed to be highly likely to achieve national and international requirements for the protection of ETP species.)
SG100: Replace language with existing language under 2.3.2 except for language related to national legislation. Add text that the standard seeks to achieve no ETP species caught in the fishery.
ETP species and bycatch performance standards for all fishery assessments
TIRN urges Marine Stewardship Council to revisit its default performance standards for ETP species in all fishery assessments in order to reflect new science and the need to prioritize protection of marine life from capture in industrial fisheries. TIRN urges MSC to eliminate the SG60 standard for ETP species as an acceptable score for certification, and to increase the weighting for the scoring for ETP species.
TIRN also urges MSC to highlight bycatch of sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds in its labeling protocols so that a seafood buyer or consumer can distinguish between fisheries with high bycatch of these marine animals.
Lastly, TIRN urges the MSC to develop a program to alert seafood buyers seeking the MSC label about mercury levels and other contamination in certified fisheries.
Information and opportunities
A full analysis or compendium of new information on ETP bycatch in fisheries is beyond the scope of these comments, but TIRN welcomes the opportunity to provide more detailed comments on ETP standards in the future. The comments here are intended to draw your attention to some new information and developments particularly when it comes to sea turtles and developments in the United States that may be relevant to the work of Marine Stewardship Council.
TIRN urges MSC to send staff to the International Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology in San Diego, California, April 12 to 16, 2011, as an opportunity to get updated on the latest international science on sea turtles. A fisheries forum is planned by the organizers. The conference information is available here: http://iconferences.seaturtle.org/
Sea Turtle Bycatch and New Reports
All six species of sea turtles that utilize U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. All are listed under IUCN Red List as vulnerable to extinction, except the Australian flatback which is currently designated “data deficient.” A primary reason for the decline of sea turtles around the world is bycatch in commercial fisheries. Shrimp fisheries and pelagic longline fisheries for swordfish and tuna take the biggest toll on sea turtles, although they are captured and killed by a wide variety of fishing gear.
A recent U.S. National Recent Research Council Report on sea turtle populations and abundance found that no U. S. sea turtle population is currently meeting recovery objectives under the Endangered Species Act. It is far from clear what, if any, level of sea turtle bycatch in a fishery is “sustainable” for the species. Incidental take limits for sea turtles are set fishery by fishery without reference to the cumulative impacts. In fact, no cumulative assessment of fishery bycatch of sea turtle in U. S. fisheries has ever been compiled by National Marine Fisheries Service.
Most fisheries in the U. S. and around the world are inadequately assessed so bycatch data is highly fragmentary and incomplete, thus making it difficult to obtain cumulative bycatch estimates. [Moore]. Accurate estimates (or any estimates) of sea turtle population size do not exist, which precludes direct estimation of the proportion of a population that is removed annually by bycatch. Currently, there is no way to determine how many sea turtles can be removed from a population without harming it. [Moore].
To make such a determination, a fishery must first estimate sea turtle population stock size, determine cumulative bycatch across all fisheries, assess whether bycatch exceeds a certain population-viability threshold, account for uncertainty in estimates using a precautionary principle, and develop and implement a plan to reduce bycatch in the highest-impact fisheries. [Moore].
An international study of bycatch of sea turtles in fisheries recently revealed that millions of marine turtles have been killed over the past two decades through entrapment in fishing gear. [Wallace 2010]. The BBC quoted author Bryan Wallace as saying: "Sea turtles are sentinel species of how oceans are functioning. The impacts that human activities have on them give us an idea as to how those same activities are affecting the oceans on which billions of people around the world depend for their own well-being." Dr Wallace works in the global marine division of Conservation International and at Duke University in the U.S.
The reports by Moore and Wallace are attached.
Please consider these additional U.S.-focused comments about sea turtles and longline fisheries
U.S. Pacific and Atlantic loggerheads, along with other distinct population segments, are currently being recommended for uplisting from threatened to endangered by National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act due to severe population declines.
Capture, injury and/or death as bycatch in longline fisheries is a primary cause of the decline of loggerhead sea turtles in the U.S. Even though the U.S. Pacific (Hawaii) and Atlantic longline fisheries are now required to use modified fishing gear (circle hooks, special baits, carry de-hookers, etc,) as a result of jeopardy decisions and litigation, longlining remains a primary reason for the decline of loggerhead and critically endangered leatherback sea turtles.
The U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fleet for tuna and swordfish snared and killed or injured 4,839 loggerheads and 6, 626 leatherbacks for a total of 11,465 animals between 2001 and 2008.
Critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys, hawksbills and green sea turtles are also caught in lesser numbers in this fishery every year.
The allowed capture of leatherback sea turtles in the U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fishery was exceeded for the three-year period from 2004 to 2006: 2,145 leatherbacks were estimated to have been hooked or entangled, equaling 164 more than the authorized 1,981. New fishery protections were required after 2004.
In 2008 alone – and four years after turtle bycatch reduction measures were mandated -- the U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fishery harmed or killed an estimated 381 leatherback sea turtles and 772 loggerhead sea turtles.
National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 635 loggerheads will be harmed or killed in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery every year even with bycatch reduction measures, and that this impact remains a significant threat to the recovery and survival of the species.
The Hawaii longline fishery this year expanded and was allowed to almost triple the previous limit on loggerhead take from 16 to 46 interactions per season. TIRN is in litigation with this fishery to roll back the expansion based on the status review and uplisting proposal.
The reopening of the West Coast High Seas longline fishery was denied by the Pacific Fishery Management Council due to concerns over take of sea turtles; and approval for a new California EEZ permit was denied for the same reason.
The Florida bottom longline fishery for reef fish was closed in 2009 for three months due to excess, illegal take of more than 1,800 Atlantic loggerheads over three years. It has since reopened with significant allowable loggerhead takes.
Marine mammals, seabirds, endangered bluefin tuna, sharks, and other fish species are also taken in significant numbers by pelagic longlining for swordfish and tuna in U. S. waters.
The United States is considering regulations for imported seafood that would require a goal of “zero bycatch” under Marine Mammal Protection Act
Every year hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea lions and other marine mammals are captured or killed by international fishing fleets, mostly in drift gillnets. Gillnets and longlines also capture threatened and endangered sea turtles, seabirds and other marine wildlife. Millions of pounds of fish caught in these deadly fisheries are allowed to enter the U. S. in violation of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which requires a ban on imported fish caught in ways that harm marine mammals in excess of U. S. standards for domestic fisheries.
Specifically, Section 101(a)(2) of the MMPA [ 16 U.S.C. § 1371(a)(2)], requires that the U.S. “ban the importation of commercial fish or fish products that have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of marine mammals in excess of United States standards.” By requiring foreign nations to prove that their fishing methods do not result in harm to marine mammals in excess of U.S. standards before allowing those nations to export fish and fish products to the U.S., MMPA section 101 ensures that the U.S.’s considerable economic power provides an incentive to conserve, rather than obliterate, marine mammal populations. It also serves to protect U.S. fishers from unfair competition by foreign fishers operating without appropriate restraints on fishing practices.
Until now the U.S. government has not enforced the MMPA for seafood imports nor defined what it means to comply with U. S. standards. National Marine Fisheries Service is now taking the first steps towards developing regulations to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. meets or exceeds domestic standards for protecting marine mammals from being harmed or killed as bycatch in commercial fisheries.
An advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to define U. S. standards and describe procedures for enforcing those standards for protecting marine mammals under the MMPA was published on April 30, 2010. The deadline for public comment was extended to Aug. 30, 2010. The rulemaking was in response to a May 2008 petition by Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) requesting that the United States government start enforcing the longstanding requirements of the MMPA to protect marine mammals by banning swordfish imports from nations that had not submitted proof that their fisheries did not injure and kill marine mammals in excess of U.S. standards. The rulemaking is broader and seeks to establish and define U. S. standards for all imported seafood. Read more.
Mercury in Fish
TIRN urges Marine Stewardship Council to consider mercury levels and other contamination of fish as part of its certification criteria based on recent independent testing and research showing that tuna, swordfish and several other fish species are high in mercury and unhealthy for mothers and children to eat. The MSC label should have a red flag or other warning on fish that is certified and known to be high in mercury or other contaminants.
All canned tuna and albacore should have some type of mercury warning because all tuna species contain mercury at various levels. Canned tuna is the second most popular seafood in the U.S. after shrimp. While lower-mercury skipjack is the primary species of canned tuna, other tuna species with high mercury such as albacore can be mixed in. Canned tuna is eaten frequently by children who are more vulnerable to small amounts of mercury due to their body size and active neuron development. Tuna (canned light, canned albacore and fresh/frozen varieties) accounts for 37.4 percent of total mercury inputs to the U.S. seafood supply. [Groth study].
TIRN’s GotMercury project has conducted sushi and supermarket fish testing in several U. S. regions this year that found high mercury in samples of swordfish and tuna. Each batch was tested by independent, accredited labs, and every batch came back with many fish samples above 1.0 ppm and with some swordfish as high as 3.3 ppm. These results can be found at www.gotmercury.org
Many governments, including the U.S., have issued warnings for mercury in fish. However, this information is not widely distributed to fish eaters – at least in North America – so fish buyers are usually in the dark. Those seeking the MSC label should not unintentionally be exposed to mercury.
Thank you so much for considering and reviewing these comments for the specific public consultation and more generally for the MSC performance criteria and standards. I look forward to your response and engaging in future public consultations.