Recently ASOC got some bad news - the Independent Adjudicator overseeing our objections to the Marine Stewardship Council's proposed certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery gave the company that assessed the fishery (Moody Marine) and recommended certification another chance to explain themselves. Even worse, although he had previously asked Moody to provide some detailed explanations behind some of their scoring guideposts - which he felt had vague language - and they provided only a dismissive, inadequate response, he accepted their argument. He also seemingly accepted the clear disdain for the process and the authority of the Independent Adjudicator that oozed from Moody's condescending reply. There is no final decision, which means the IA might still find that Moody erred in claiming that there was plenty of information about toothfish reproductive habits. Sample information that everyone admits is still unknown about toothfish: frequency of spawning, location of spawning, location of larvae after hatching. Can you really manage a fish population sustainably if you don't know all that much about their reproduction?
Closer to home, another third-party certifier for MSC is also making questionable decisions. Although the longline bigeye, yellowfin, and swordfish fisheries in the Southeast US catch significant amounts of bycatch, MRAG has agreed to assess the fishery for certification, which means that the fishery has been secretly pre-assessed and determined to be a viable candidate. It's difficult to see how this fishery can meet MSC's requirement that "[f]ishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends." Let's look at some statistics. From 2001-2008, the Florida East Coast (FEC) part of the fishery harmed or killed 632 leatherback turtles and 506 loggerheads. Both are endangered. And that's just the Florida part. The U.S. government considers the fishery a Category 1 fishery that poses a significant threat to marine mammal populations. Oh, and the fishery takes sharks and a bunch of endangered bluefin tuna, three quarters of which is just thrown out. Check out the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's list of the staggering bycatch impact of these fisheries. 50% of the fisheries' catch is bycatch.
This is a new low for MSC. With the fishery assessments ASOC was involved in, there was a lot of uncertainty about the potential effects of the fisheries. Uncertainty is a solid reason to deny certification since MSC purports to want fisheries that are sustainable indefinitely. If you don't have good information, theoretically you can't make that claim (but plenty of fisheries do). However, in this case there is no uncertainty, just a lot of at-risk species dead for no good reason. What more would the fishery have to do to get rejected by the certifier? Use baby pandas as bait and hooks made from the bones of puppies and kittens? Although I suppose since there are plenty of puppies and kittens around that would be considered a sustainable practice until there's proof that the fish-hook making industry is detrimental to cat and dog populations.
The fishery clients for these fisheries may be able to argue that their bycatch is only a small part of the problem, that they're working on it, etc. This points to the overall problem with MSC's standards - if you can make a not-entirely-crazy argument, you're golden. There's no room for common sense, such as not certifying species like toothfish because it's well-known that they're vulnerable to overfishing, or not certifying fisheries that waste half of their catch and regularly kill endangered species.
Meanwhile, I'll be waiting for the announcement that the baby-panda-bait fishery for bluefin tuna is undergoing assessment for MSC certification.