Contribution to MSC consultation on shark finning

On 29 July, BLOOM contributed to a public consultation on shark finning, calling on the MSC to drastically improve its ambition so as not to further erode its credibility.

Shark finning is the practice of removing and retaining the fins of sharks and discarding their carcasses at sea. The fins are highly prized. The fishers catch the sharks and slice off the fins, with no regard to whether the shark is alive or dead. The sharks — most of them still alive — are then tossed back into the sea to bleed to death or to be attacked by other sharks or fish. This wasteful and inhumane practice was banned by the MSC from its standards in 2011 (effective in 2013) and violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, but despite these nice promises made by the MSC, the ban is still poorly enforced in MSC-certified fisheries, including the PNA fishery (the largest tuna fishery in the world).

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A necessary but poorly enforced policy

A central weakness in the MSC certification scheme is that the label does not require Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) policies to be enforced in any fishery interacting with sharks. This places the label far behind the curve of sustainable fisheries management globally. ‘Fins Naturally Attached’ (FNA) policies require fishers to land any sharks with their fins intact and have been widely shown to significantly reduce illegal targeting, dumping of carcasses at sea with retention only of fins and live finning. Already a few years ago, a comprehensive review of global finning legislation concluded that “due to the complications presented by the development and enforcement of species and fleet-specific regulations, finning bans which require that sharks be landed with fins attached are ideal. When sharks are landed with fins attached, it is easier for trained observers at landing sites to record the number, mass and species of sharks landed, making data collection and monitoring more straightforward and accurate” (Biery and Pauly, 2012; available at: FNA policies also facilitate enforcement. If an FNA policy is in place in a fishery, there can be no ambiguity – if fins are discovered, for example, during a port inspection it is clear that a breach has taken place and that action must be taken.

The MSC lags behind

FNA policies have consequently been adopted and implemented by numerous countries and blocs including the EU (2013), US (2010), UK (2009), India (2013), Costa Rica (2006), South Africa (1998), Brazil (2012) and Canada (2019). A number of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations have also adopted FNA policies, such as NEAFC (2014), NAFO (2016) and GFCM (2018).

Given the scale of their adoption, at this stage it is arguable that FNA policies are not simply ‘best practice’ but increasingly a minimum requirement for fishery sustainability. When so many states and management organisations have had these policies in place for many years, it is concerning and disappointing that an organisation considered by so many decision makers as the ‘gold standard’ fisheries ecolabel (which we strongly dispute) would not.

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