Independent Adjudicator Orders Reconsideration of MSC Certification of Ross Sea Toothfish Fishery: Victory for Science and the Antarctic Marine Environment

May 18, 2010 10:09

Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) Independent Adjudicator, Michael Lodge, remanded the proposed MSC certification of the Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery back to the certifier, Moody Marine, for major reconsideration. The adjudicator's determination results from an appeal filed by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), representing the great majority of its member groups, reports with reference to Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.

In his ruling, the Adjudicator identified ‘serious procedural errors' in the approach taken by Moody Marine. For several performance indicators, he found that the scores given by Moody Marine were not justified by available scientific evidence. For the first time in a MSC assessment the Adjudicator has referred the scoring indicators used for two Principles back to the certifier for revisions and reconsideration.

In December 2009, ASOC submitted a formal objection to the recommendation by Moody Marine, Ltd., a UK-based consulting firm, that part of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery be given MSC Certification. ASOC argued that the scarcity of information about the stock and a lack of scientific rigour in the assessment make certification unjustifiable.1 ASOC also argued that certification would undermine ongoing efforts to have the Ross Sea established as a fully-protected marine reserve, and that Moody Marine had ignored the scientific views of its own expert peer reviewers, detailed scientific concerns raised by 39 marine scientists from seven nations who have worked in the Ross Sea for decades2 and information provided by ASOC, Greenpeace and other non-governmental organizations. The 39 scientists said that certification of the fishery as "sustainable" is scientifically indefensible.

On December 15 the Adjudicator ruled that serious issues were raised by ASOC and thus an appeal could proceed. ASOC filed a final brief against the certification on March 29, 2010, with supporting documents filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the 39 marine scientists.

"Given the weight of the evidence, the only rational course of action was to remand the certifier's report," said ASOC Executive Director James Barnes. "This fishery should never have been allowed to undergo full assessment in the first place - there are simply far too many unknowns about this highly vulnerable stock, which is precisely why the fishery is officially classified as 'exploratory' by CCAMLR - the Antarctic body that manages fishing in the Southern Ocean. The adjudicator has agreed with ASOC that Moody cannot justify its scores for a number of crucial indicators."

Among the major substantive and procedural problems with the assessment raised by ASOC are:

  • 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'.
  • Among information yet to be learned about the Antarctic toothfish's life history is where and how often the species spawns, as neither eggs nor larvae have ever been found.
  • The age at which toothfish mature is uncertain, but at ~16 years it is far older than that of most fish, making the species especially at risk of overfishing, since the largest, most fertile adults are targeted by the fishery.
  • Moody Marine ignored the substantive criticisms of experienced peer reviewers with extensive backgrounds in fisheries science and management.
  • Moody Marine refused to provide ASOC key documents 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.

"This report is more than slap on the wrist for Moody Marine," added Barnes. "The Adjudicator disagreed with the reasoning and scoring for several performance indicators, which had been criticized by ASOC."

MSC rules require that ASOC, a non-profit, non-commercial public interest organization, pay 15,000 British pounds (about $23,000 US) up front in order for the Independent Adjudicator to proceed with the case. That fee was paid under protest. Even though ASOC has been vindicated by the Independent Adjudicator, the MSC keeps the money.

"With oceans around the globe already stripped of their top predators, the Ross Sea is one of the last remaining intact marine ecosystems," added Richard Page from Greenpeace International. "We owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to keep it that way."

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.3

For further information contact:

Jim Barnes (ASOC Executive Director)

Email:  Cell: +33-6-7418-1994

Richard Page, Greenpeace International

Email:  Cell: +44-780-1212966

Steve Smith, Greenpeace International Communications Manager

Email:  Cell +31-6-4378-7359

David Ainley (H.T. Harvey & Associates)

Email:  Cell: +1-415-272-9499

Barry Weeber, ECO NZ

Email:  cell +64-21-738-807

Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner

Email:  Phone +64-21-905582

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