UK parliamentary Committee requests shark finning data to MSC label

UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee has just published a hard-hitting report following its Sustainable Seas Inquiry, in which they request that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) provide up-to-date evidence on incidences of shark finning in certified fisheries. The report recommends that the MSC deals with shark finning and other serious sustainability issues by strengthening its standard and conducting a transparent and independently evaluated review.

What is shark finning?

A finned shark that was discarded at sea (©Marco Chan)

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 fishermen 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 horrific 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.

True concerns and fake data

For months, two coalitions in which BLOOM has been involved — On The Hook and Make Stewardship Count — have argued that many hundreds of sharks were ‘finned’ in the world’s largest tuna fishery and second largest MSC-certified fishery.

Despite having been repeatedly asked to provide evidence that shark finning was no longer occurring in MSC-certified fisheries, and that vessels which had been involved in finning had been prosecuted, the MSC has so far utterly failed to provide any data.

Worse, when formally requested by Zac Goldsmith MP back in September 2018 to provide such evidence as part of the Sustainable seas inquiry (which considered the effectiveness of the MSC fishery certification scheme and ecolabel), the MSC submitted… bogus data!

BLOOM submitted a short analysis of these data to the Environmental Audit Committee. Among others:

  • The MSC provided examples of only four/five shark finning incidents, yet there have been 429 incidents of finning recorded in the tuna fishery of interest from 2012 to 2015;
  • Three of the incidents cited by the MSC were reported in July 2012, i.e. before the ban became effective;
  • The two media reports from 2013 provided by MSC are about long-liners, which are not part of the MSC-certified fishery (only purse seiners). These two reports also appear to also relate to the same long-liner.
> Read our full analysis

This is unacceptable. By providing totally inadequate evidence in such an arrogant manner, the MSC publicly supports a destructive and unacceptable practice.

We are extremely pleased to see that the Environmental Audit Committee has taken this matter seriously and is holding the MSC to account for its actions.

To go further

Over its twenty years of existence, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has increasingly dominated the certified seafood market. Thanks to strong partnerships with retailers such as Walmart and Carrefour as well as brands such as McDonald’s and Ikea,[1] it currently certifies around 14% of the world’s catch and aims to certify 20% of the world’s catch by 2020 and 30% by 2030.[2]

‘Compartmentalization’ of catches

Since January 2017, however, pressure is mounting on the MSC, as it decided to allow the certification of ‘compartmentalized’ fisheries. The largest tuna fishery in the world, in the Western Pacific Ocean, epitomizes this poor choice: tuna caught on ‘free-schools’ (naturally-aggregated and homogeneous in terms of species and size) benefit from the MSC label, while tuna caught on the same vessel, with the same gear, on the same day, but around artificially-aggregated schools — very heterogeneous in terms of species and size (thus leading to important discards of potentially threatened species) — does not.

> Learn more about the On The Hook campaign
> Why is ‘compartmentalization’ a really bad idea?

The MSC condones shark finning

Public records show that purse seiners operating in that tuna fishery have been involved in shark finning after it became certified.[3] More worrisome, the MSC clearly cannot prove that shark finning has not occurred since 2015, despite the fishery having been recertified for another five years earlier this year.

In the 2014 fishing season, it was estimated that around 640 Silky and Oceanic Whitetip sharks[4] were observed to have been finned on the same trips, aboard the same vessels and by the same fishers that MSC proudly claims are engaged in catching MSC-certified sustainable tuna.

Notes and references

[1] MSC (2014) Leading companies worldwide partnering with MSC.

[2] MSC (2017) Global Impacts Report 2017 — 1997–2017: a 20th anniversary review of the Marine Stewardship Council program and the progress and improvements made by MSC certified fisheries around the world.

[3] Blyth-Skyrme et al. (2018) MSC sustainable fisheries certification — PNA Western and Central Pacific skipjack and yellowfin, unassociated / non FAD set, tuna purse seine fishery — Public certification report.

[4] Silky sharks are considered ‘near threatened’ and Ocean whitetip sharks ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN):

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