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ISSF Report Shows Management of Many Tuna Stocks Not Meeting Criteria for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Sustainability Standards

Washington, D.C.

Some stocks fail to meet minimum standard due to lack of well-defined harvest control rules

Only six out of 19 major commercial tuna stocks are being managed to avoid overfishing and restore depleted fish populations because the majority of the stocks are not protected by well-defined harvest control rules (HCRs) from Regional Fishing Management Organizations (RFMOs), according to independent scientists in a report published by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).

ISSF 2017-09: An Evaluation of the Sustainability of Global Tuna Stocks Relative to Marine Stewardship Council Criteria finds that, while there has been progress by RFMOs towards developing harvest strategies and implementing well-defined harvest control rules, failure to implement controls for stocks before rebuilding is required has led to an inability to meet the MSC standard’s minimum requirements on harvest control rules.

Only 6 of 19 commercial #tuna stocks are being managed to avoid #overfishing. Click To Tweet

In the December 2016 version of the report, almost twice as many stocks — 11 of 19 — were found to be well managed. This variance can be attributed in part to refinements made in 2017 regarding how the MSC standard assesses harvest control rules. The authors note, “Scoring guideposts were changed and additional guidance was provided to interpret the scoring guidepost text. The objective of these changes was not to alter the standard, but to continue to improve consistency in its definition and application across the wide variety of fisheries that are seeking certification.”

The report also notes an improvement in stock status scores (PI 1.1.1). For a visual summary of changes over time in the report’s scores, please see related infographics on the ISSF website: Summary of Sustainable Tuna Stocks (MSC Principle 1) and RFMO Performance (MSC Principle 3 Averages).

About the Report
An Evaluation of the Sustainability of Global Tuna Stocks takes a consistent, comprehensive approach to scoring stocks against certain components of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard. The MSC is a global certification program for fisheries.

The report — updated three times since first published in 2013, and organized by individual tuna stock and tuna RFMO — is designed to:

  • Provide a basis for comparing between stock scores and tuna RFMO scores as assessed by the same experts
  • Become a useful source document for future tuna certifications or in the establishment of tuna Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs)
  • Prioritize ISSF projects and advocacy efforts against initiatives that will improve low performance indicator scores

The scores in the report focus on stock status (MSC Principle 1) and the international management aspects relevant to RFMOs (part of MSC Principle 3) and are based on publicly available fishery and RFMO data. Each of these Principles is evaluated in relationship to Performance Indicators (PIs) within each Principle.

The Evaluation report also includes detailed remarks on each stock, evaluations of the four RFMOs, and comprehensive reference citations.

Additional Report Findings
The report scores the main commercial tuna stocks (bigeyeyellowfinalbacore, and skipjack — but not bluefin) and each tuna RFMO (ICCATIATTCWCPFC, and IOTC). An 80 is a passing score, below 60 is a failing score, and 60–79 would indicate a conditional pass, with the requirement that any deficiency is addressed within five years if a fishery were to become MSC-certified.

Other findings for each principle are as follows:

MSC Principle 1
The MSC’s Principle 1 states: “A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to overfishing or depletion of the exploited populations and, for those populations that are depleted, the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery.”

Regarding stocks receiving passing scores:

  • Among seven tuna stocks in the Atlantic Ocean, two received an overall principle-level passing score: Yellowfin and Northern Albacore, which “has recovered from biomass reductions several decades ago”
  • Western Pacific Skipjack, Eastern Pacific Yellowfin, Eastern Pacific Bigeye, and Indian Ocean Skipjack all received principle-level passing scores.

In contrast, regarding stocks receiving failing scores:

  • In the Pacific, four stocks received overall principle-level failing scores: Western Yellowfin; North Albacore, South Albacore, and Western Bigeye, which has been undergoing a steady decline since the 1970s.
  • Likewise, in the Indian Ocean, Yellowfin, Bigeye, and Albacore all received overall principle-level failing
  • Yellowfin stocks in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans require rebuilding, as does Atlantic Bigeye.
  • Mediterranean Albacore and Indian Ocean Yellowfin had the most failing scores on individual performance indicators — including on stock rebuilding, harvest strategies and harvest control rules and tools.

MSC Principle 3
The MSC’s Principle 3 states: “The fishery is subject to an effective management system that respects local, national and international laws and standards and incorporates institutional and operational frameworks that require use of the resource to be responsible and sustainable.”

  • Two RFMOs — WCPFC and IATTC — received passing scores for all seven performance indicators under Principle 3.
  • The other two RFMOs — ICCAT and IOTC — received conditional passing scores on two performance indicators: “consultation, roles and responsibilities” and “compliance and enforcement.” ICCAT was given a conditional pass score for “legal and customary framework.” Other performance indicators include “long term objectives”; “fishery specific objectives”; “decision-making processes”; and “management performance evaluation.”
  • All four RFMOs received overall principle-level passing scores from the authors.

While the report focuses on tuna stock status and sustainability as well as on RFMO policies, it does not address national or bilateral fishing jurisdictions, gear- or fleet-specific ecosystem impacts, or specific fisheries’ ecosystems — all of which are also considered within the MSC assessment methodology.

Since 2011, ISSF has been an active stakeholder in MSC tuna fishery assessments and certifications. ISSF’s strategic objective is to develop and implement verifiable, science-based practices, commitments and international management measures to help all tuna fisheries become capable of meeting the MSC certification standard without conditions.


Post Contact: Charlie Patterson, +1 202-680-8132,[email protected]
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