Independent Certification Of Fisheries

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As consumers become more aware of sustainability issues surrounding the food that they buy the more they will demand that food comes from certified sustainable sources. The most recognised accreditation body is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC is a charity which sets standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. The MSC programme meets FAO guidelines that require assessments to be carried out by independent, third-party certifiers.

A significant – and increasing – number of Scottish fisheries are now certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as being responsibly managed and sustainable.

The flagship ecolabel certification enables consumers to make informed choices when purchasing seafood and the increasing number of Scottish fisheries participating in the programme underlines the commitment of Scottish fishermen in ensuring a sustainable future.

One of the main Scottish species to be MSC certified is North Sea haddock, which is a key staple for UK consumers and a favourite fish for most to eat. The fishery was certified as sustainable by the MSC in October 2010 in a process that was overseen by the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group.  North Sea haddock is Scotland’s most valuable whitefish stock and its certification shows the leading way that our fishermen are taking in stock conservation.

North Sea and West of Scotland saithe (or coley as it is sometimes known) has also just achieved in MSC certification. Fishing with bottom trawls, pair trawls and Scottish seines, the fishery includes around 230 Scottish vessels catching around 10,000 tonnes of saithe each year.

As part of the certification, and underlining the SFSAG’s commitment to sustainability, the fishery has committed to 10 further actions to improve environmental performances from current sustainable levels, to global best practice. One of these actions will help to protect a recently-discovered bed of cold water corals by ensuring that the fishing vessels continue to avoid the East Mingulay Reefs area, currently proposed as a Scottish Conservation Area. Saithe, which is a member of the cod family, is a great fish to eat and much under-rated.

Scottish pelagic (mackerel and herring) fisheries are also leading the way in certification. Stocks that are MSC certified under an initiative led by the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) are North Sea herring, Atlanto Scandian herring, and West of Scotland herring.

For mackerel, following best practice recommended by industry organisations, pelagic vessels use hand lines or small-scale jigging machines to take a sample from a mackerel shoal, to determine the size of the fish before shooting their nets. By doing this the fishermen prevent the capture of small, unmarketable fish, ensuring that only the targeted size are taken. There is further work ongoing with the industry looking at using different methods to sample fish size when shoals of fish are encountered.

At sea, information on small fish gained in this way will immediately be shared with other boats in the area, regardless of nationality, to facilitate avoidance. Recognising that juvenile fish are tomorrow’s spawning stock, there is industry-wide consensus on these preventative methods. By avoiding shoals of small fish, the Scottish pelagic industry is helping to ensure a sustainable future for both the fish stocks and, in turn, the industry.

Scottish pelagic fishermen are amongst the most heavily regulated in Europe, working under the full spectrum of controls which include quota allocations, designated landing ports, restrictive licensing, closed areas and satellite monitoring.

SPSG has also published its own sustainability policy, co-funded scientific research, and supported the Scottish pelagic processing protocol and promoted the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme to member vessels.

SPSG recognised the importance of fisheries being independently certified as being sustainable and entered its North Sea herring and Western mackerel fisheries for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2007. North Sea herring was accredited in July 2008 and Western mackerel was the first large-scale mackerel fishery to meet the standard in January 2009 (currently suspended due to unilateral over-fishing of the mackerel stock by Iceland and the Faroes). North Sea herring was recertified in July 2013.

In March 2010, SPSG celebrated certification of its Atlanto-Scandian herring fishery making it a hat-trick of Scottish pelagic fisheries meeting the MSC standard. This was followed by West of Scotland herring MSC certification being achieved in April 2012.

Certification for the north-east Atlantic mackerel fishery is currently suspended (not removed) because of the gross over-fishing of the stock by Iceland the Faroes. However, a corrective action plan has been put forward by the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA) for the SPSG. The most recent Marine Conservation Society advice recommends that consumers should buy their mackerel from sustainable sources, including suppliers who are signatories to the principles of the MINSA, which includes all Scottish mackerel fishing vessels and processors.

Three of Shetland’s main inshore fisheries – king scallop, velvet crab and brown crab – have also achieved MSC Certification as sustainable and well-managed fisheries. The certification was co-ordinated by the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) in partnership with NAFC Marine Centre UHI. The certification means that this is the only fishery in the world to have the MSC label for brown and velvet crab, and king scallops.

Other types of accreditation have been embraced by the fishing industry. One of the most popular is the Responsible Fishing Scheme which was set up by Seafish in 2006 to help raise standards in the catching sector. The scheme individually audits and assesses vessels, with certified vessels being recognised as having standards which reflect best practice in fishing operations, vessel safety and hygiene, crew competence and environmental interactions. All segments of the fleet are covered from pelagic to shellfish with around 130 vessels in the Scottish fleet being certified.

The drive to achieve certification by the Scottish fishing fleets demonstrates the industry’s commitment to sustainable fishing and its clear recognition of the value of independent certification.