The MSC label torpedoes its credibility over orange roughy fishery

MSC label certifies the New Zealand orange roughy fishery

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies more than 10% of the world’s wild fish catch and nearly half of the white fish such as cod, hake or pollock, has made a fatal decision on its credibility by granting its “sustainable fishing” logo to one of the least sustainable and most destructive fisheries in the world, the New Zealand orange roughy fishery. This fishery targets fish that live up to 150 years, breed at age 30, and are caught at depths of up to 2000 meters with weighted deep-sea trawls, which devastate the seabed and vulnerable deepwater species.

The MSC certification process chose to ignore the scientific evidence proving that this fishery is the extreme opposite of sustainability. A coalition of international NGOs led by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Greenpeace, the Environmental Conservation Organization of New Zealand, the WWF and including BLOOM, filed a joint objection to the certification of the orange roughy fishery in June 2016. NGOs brought the scientific elements to the attention of the MSC adjudicator, to no avail. Through his decision, the MSC rejected the NGOs objection, thus green lighting the MSC-labeling to the epitome of destructive and unsustainable fishing.

With such a decision,” analyzes Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s scientific director, “the MSC reveals how biased and dysfunctional its evaluation system and objection procedure are. The label was already in the limelight of criticism and loss of credibility. Granting the orange roughy fishery an MSC label raises the last doubts: the MSC officially became a sham. At this stage, they might as well eco-label whale hunting! Anything can be expected from now on… “.


A flawed, private objection procedure

After a candidate fishery for MSC certification has been assessed favorably,[1] stakeholders have 30 days to oppose certification if they are not satisfied with the assessment’s conclusions.[2] The objection is extremely expensive: up to 7,500 $ US, or just over € 7,000. The objection procedure is arbitrated by an “independent” adjudicator who is recruited and remunerated by the MSC for three years![3] The result is no surprise: about 95% of objections are rejected.[4]

A Kafkaesque arbitration system

The roadmap of the MSC adjudicator in charge of objections is to focus only on the proper application of MSC procedures, not to evaluate elements relating to the sustainability of the fishery.[5]

The MSC has put in place a private arbitration system and set its own rules. This allows them to decide which fisheries will bear the MSC seal, regardless of the overwhelming scientific evidence which proves them wrong,” says Charlène Jouanneau, consultant for BLOOM on labels.

The MSC is criticism-proof,” says Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM. “The fact that their rules are flawed does not embarrass them. They repeat in a loop that rules are rules, and that they apply them. This blind and robotic application of rules is reminiscent of Kadare novels describing the absurdity of Soviet totalitarianism. This episode is, in my opinion, a foretaste of the private arbitration mechanisms that the Transatlantic treaties such as CETA intend to implement: a world in which good faith and common sense no longer have a grip on reality… Run for your life!

BLOOM calls on citizens and mass retailers to steer clear from the MSC

Charlène Jouanneau denounces the disturbing “mercantile grasp” of the concept of “sustainable fishing” by the MSC. “It is urgent to worry about the impunity that this multinational organization enjoys. The MSC can, without proper guards, abuse the monopoly it holds in the certification of seafood, to certify sustainable fisheries with destructive practices.

BLOOM has long alerted brands and retailers such as Carrefour, which solely rely on the MSC as a proxy for their sustainable purchasing policy. “If brands do not develop their own procurement guidelines for their purchases of “sustainable” fish, they run the risk of losing their credibility at the same time as the label. The recent decisions of the MSC will force brands to radically question their strategies“concludes Claire Nouvian.



[1] The audit firm is selected and remunerated by the candidate fishery.



[4] A scientific study, to which BLOOM had contributed, had shown in 2013 that of 19 formal objections, only one had been retained by the MSC label. Statistics updated in 2015 by researchers affiliated with the MSC showed that only two objections were retained on 31 formulated since the emergence of the label. See Brown et al. (2016) On the road to fisheries certification: the value of the Objections Procedure in achieving the MSC sustainability standard. Fisheries Research 182: 136-148.

[5]In the context of this proceeding, it is not my job to determine who is right or wrong on substance. Whatever the merits of the arguments, both pro and con, about the nature of the fisheries and their impacts, and these arguments are weighty, my decision in this matter must (…) be limited under the terms of the Objection Procedure to more narrow questions relating to the procedural regularity of the assessment process and the “rationality” of or support for the CAB’s determinations“, cf. Decision of the Independent Adjudicator in the matter of objections to the final report and determination of the New Zealand Orange River Fisheries under the MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing, Eldon V.C. Greenberg, MSC Independent Adjudicator. Dated December 2, 2016. 35p. Available at


Further information

New Zealand Orange Roughy Fishery

Since its origin in the early 1980s, the orange roughy fishery (Hoplostethus atlanticus) has followed a characteristic pattern of deep-sea fisheries: a sequential exploitation using fleets deploying a technological force far too important with regard to the vulnerability of the targeted stocks.

The species, which can live up to 150 years and reaches sexual maturity between 20 and 40 years, withstanded very quickly stocks collapses. Since the establishment in 1983 of a highly supervised fisheries management system based on individual transferable quotas (ITQs), Orange roughy stocks in New Zealand have stabilized at very low levels.

The fishery is still not “sustainable”, as the gear used – the bottom trawl (now prohibited in the EU beyond 800 meters) – operates in areas with deep, millennial corals.

During the MSC assessment of this fishery, many scientific reports were ignored: one showing that the by-catch in the fishery was under-estimated by 40% and that the actual catch was 2.7 times official catches. [2] Another showed that marine protected areas had been established outside fishing grounds. [3] Others reported specifically the impact of bottom trawl fisheries in New Zealand [4] and on benthic communities in general. [5]

Deep-sea fisheries in New Zealand

New Zealand is the first fishing country in terms of deep species. [6] These catches are exported massively to a value of nearly 650 million euros annually. [7] The goal of the Deepwater Group, which since 2005 includes all New Zealand owners of deep-sea quotas, [8] is “to be recognized for supervising the best-managed deep-sea fisheries in the world.” [9] [10] In a close partnership since 2010 with the Ministry of Primary Industries aimed at “optimizing the management of deep-sea fisheries” [10] were implemented a Deepwater plan ” [11], research and observation programs, and” benthic protection areas “. At the same time, the Deepwater Group adopted a certification strategy for all its fisheries by the MSC, which they consider to be the most reliable label. Currently, 75% of the catch are certified or under evaluation, and the Deepwater Group’s deep-sea fisheries that do not meet the certification criteria are subject to Fishery Improvement Plans. [12]


Recently, a leaked WWF report seriously questioned the “sustainable fishing” MSC label, created by WWF itself and Unilever in 1997. WWF accuses the MSC of many irregularities in the evaluation of tuna fisheries in The Indian Ocean. [13]

Since its inception, the MSC has sought to increase the volumes of certified fish, particularly among species of high commercial value such as tuna, salmon, or white-fleshed fish (cod, hake, hoki). [14] Many controversial fisheries have been certified by the MSC, such as New Zealand hoki, Antarctic krill, toothfish, swordfish, etc. [15]

This tendency to certify at all costs is linked to the choice of the MSC to establish partnerships with large companies in demand for labeled fish. For example, McDonald’s, IKEA, Iglo, Findus, Carrefour, Sodexo, KLM, Quick, Sheba and Whiskas (Mars Petcare Group) have already turned towards an MSC-certified fish supply in order to get a “green image” but especially for the competitive advantage of the eco-label in the international seafood market.

In the end, most MSC certified fisheries are industrial and from northern countries. Only a few fisheries in Southern countries targeting species of high commercial value and intended for export (such as tuna) are certified. [16]



[1] Clark (2001) Are deepwater fisheries sustainable? The example of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) in New Zealand. Fisheries Research 51: 123-135.

[2] Simmons, et al. (2016) Reconstruction of marine fisheries catches for New Zealand (1950-2010). Working Paper # 2015 – 87, Sea Around Us, Vancouver (CA). 63 p.

[3] Rieser, et al. (2013) Trawl fisheries, catch shares and the protection of benthic marine ecosystems: has ownership generated incentives for seafloor stewardship? Marine Policy 40: 75-83.

[4] Gianni and Bos (2012) Protecting ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs): Lessons learned from the implementation of a resolutions to protect deep-sea biodiversity. IMARES, Wageningen (NL). 95 p.

[5] Clark, et al. (2016) The impacts of deep-sea fisheries on benthic communities: a review. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 73 (1).

[6] Nouvian, et al. (2011) Ecological and socio-economic profile of deep-sea fisheries. BLOOM Association. 128 pp.


[8] The group owns 96% of the New Zealand deepwater quotas:





[13]; The original report is available at this link:


[15] The fisheries objected to are identified in two scientific papers: Christian, et al. (2013) A review of formal objections to Marine Stewardship Council fisheries certifications. Biological Conservation 161: 10-17. And Brown, et al. (2015) On the road to fisheries certification: The value of the Objectives Procedure in achieving the MSC sustainability standard. Fisheries Research: in press.

[16] Perez-Ramirez, et al. (2015) The Marine Stewardship Council certification in Latin America and the Caribbean: a review of experiments, potentials and pitfalls. Fisheries Research in

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