On The Hook campaign

The On The Hook campaignAfter months of unfruitful exchanges with the MSC, BLOOM and a wide range of stakeholders launched On The Hook, a campaign that aimed to prevent the largest tuna fishery in the world — the PNA fishery — from being re-certified.

The point of contention was simple: the fishery targets two species of tuna (skipjack and yellowfin tuna) using a single gear: a purse seine.[1] During the same trip, this purse seine can be used opportunistically on either ‘free schools’ of tuna — the activity that is MSC-certified ­— or on schools formed around ‘fishing aggregating devices’ (FADs).[2] The latter practice catches many sharks, turtles, juvenile tuna and other protected or sensitive species, rendering it unsustainable.

On The Hook argues that it is utterly absurd to only certify the part of the fishery that targets free schools, omitting the unsustainable part of the fishery. But beyond this ethical nonsense, there is no scientific definition of what constitutes a free school or a school associated with a FAD.


Since January 2017, many actors have been mobilized against this arbitrary distinction between free schools and FAD-associated tunas. In a more general way, we have been mobilized against the compartmentalization of any given fishery into “sustainable” and “unsustainable” components.

A first letter from 21 signatories was sent by BLOOM on 13 January 2017 to ask the MSC to organize a public consultation on the subject, to suspend the ongoing assessment of the fisheries concerned, and not to suspend the current certificates until a decision was made.

After a long and hard negotiation, a non-public workshop was finally organized in early June by the MSC with some 40 stakeholders (including BLOOM). Given the poor outcome of this workshop and after having tried to negotiate with the MSC for more than eight months, we decided that it was time to bring this issue of compartmentalization into the spotlight: On The Hook was launched at the end of August 2017.

Shortly afterward, the MSC launched a public consultation in September 2017, which completely missed the point of the On The Hook campaign, preferring to talk about at-sea traceability.

Actions & successes

31 August 2017: Citizens against the re-certification of the PNA fishery

A poll conducted by Populus showed that consumers find the current practices of the PNA fishery unacceptable. In the same questionnaire, 69% of the respondents agreed that any MSC-certified fishery must be sustainable as a whole. The survey allows us to conclude that a majority of the persons surveyed would lose confidence in the MSC should the PNA fishery’s certificate be renewed despite the FAD fishing activity.

4 September 2017: BLOOM demonstrates that compartmentalization could be extremely damaging to marine conservation

By using longline fisheries as an example, BLOOM shows how allowing the compartmentalization of fisheries in to ‘sustainable’ and ‘non-sustainable’ components could lead to extremely damaging results for seabird populations.

> Read more about this story here
22 September 2017: Dutch advertising standards authority confirms Princes are “misleading consumers”

The Dutch Advertising Standards Committee recommended that Princes should stop using a number of statements on its tins, notwithstanding the fact that the wording is prescribed by the MSC under its Ecolabelling Licence Agreement with Princes.  Specifically, the Committee has recommended that Princes remove claims that “This product comes from a fishery that is independently certified according to the MSC standard for a well maintained and sustainable fishery”, as well as its declaration that “Princes collaborates with fishermen that are MSC certified and that are active for sustainable fishery. This tuna is caught responsibly, 100% traceable and MSC certified”.

> Read more about this decision by the Dutch Advertising Standards here
30 September 2017: BLOOM contributes to the MSC consultation on ‘Units of Assessment’

Although none of the options that were offered were adequate as part of the September 2017 MSC consultation on the definition of ‘units of assessment‘, BLOOM submitted a contribution.

14 November 2017: Certifier in charge of PNA fishery green lights re-certification

Despite increasing public pressure by On The Hook, the audit company in charge of assessing the PNA fishery gives it a passing note.

26 September 2017: the International Pole and Line Foundation files an objection

The International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) opposes the re-certification of the PNA fishery, although this process is increasingly considered by stakeholders as pointless: the ‘independent adjudicator’ supposed to decide whether the objection should result in the suspension of the certificate is… recruited and remunerated by the MSC! In fact, the overwhelming majority of objections do fail.

19 January 2018: MSC toughens its standards… but not too much

Given the results of its public consultation and increasing pressure by On The Hook, the MSC’s board has decided to change the label’s standards by requiring that all fisheries be assessed as a whole, without compartmentalizing the catch starting in August 2018. However, fisheries already under assessment by that time will be given a three-year grace period before having to comply with the new standards. Thus, compartmentalization will be officially allowed and endorsed by MSC until at least the end of 2021!

28 February 2018: Objection fails, PNA fishery gets re-certified

Even though the MSC has acknowledged that On The Hookvalidates the re-certification of the PNA fishery‘s concerns were justified by changing its standards, the objector dismisses the objection filed by IPNLF. Unsustainable practices will carry on branding themselves as ‘sustainable’ for the next five years.

Media coverage

31 August 2017: The Guardian, “Consumers ‘betrayed’ over sustainability of world’s biggest tuna fishery“.

16 September 2017: The Times, “Tesco is caught out over fishy claim of ‘pole and line’ tuna“.

19 October 2017: The Grocer, “MSC recertification of PNA fishery delayed amid ‘unsustainable’ claim“.

17 January 2018: IntraFish, “UK retail giants warn MSC over certified mixed-gear tuna fisheries“.

17 January 2018: The Grocer, “Supermarkets write to MSC over tuna certification concerns“.

18 January 2018: The Independent, “Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose voice major concerns about sustainability of tuna fisheries“.

18 January 2018: UndercurrentNews, “Retailers, MSC advisory board said to want changes to assessments“.

19 January 2018: The Grocer, “MSC to toughen up rules on sustainable fishing trips“.

19 January 2018: UndercurrentNews, “MSC adopts new requirement for fisheries assessments“.

24 February 2018: The Times, “‘Sustainable’ tuna fishing kills endangered silky sharks“.


[1] A purse seine is a large vertical net used to encircle schools of tuna. A sliding system closes the net at the bottom, and the whole school gets trapped.

[2] Fishing aggregating devices are floating rafts equipped with various thins such as tarps, cables and nets to attract fish. These devices are regularly criticized for catching many juveniles and unwanted species, sometimes threatened. They can also create an “ecological trap” that leads schools of tuna to areas that are less adapted to their physiology. Purse-seine tuna fisheries around these devices now represents the majority of the five million tonnes of tuna caught every year (of which more than half of the stocks are overfished).

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