‘Process is unfair and prevents small NGOs from active participation as stakeholders due to the immense financial and bureaucratic barriers which are put in the way of objectors’
Heusenstamm, Germany – Citing serious procedural unfairness, SHARKPROJECT has announced it is withdrawing with immediate effect from its engagement in the Marine Stewardship Council certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean Purse Seine Skipjack Tuna Fishery.
This decision to withdraw coincides with an identical announcement today from the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) and follows a series of what both organisations allege are unfair actions and decisions which have prejudiced their ability to input effectively into the process.
These actions include failure to provide documentation relevant to the assessment, the perceived failure of the accreditation body (CAB) to act in an independent and impartial way, and the insistence that the oral hearing be held in the Seychelles despite all the parties to the objection being based in Europe and the prohibitive costs and travel time associated with this remote location fo a small NGO.
These actions, SHARKPROJECT asserts, are in direct contravention of the MSC’s, and international sustainability principles of transparency and accessibility for all stakeholders concerned with certification, and further erode credibility of the MSC certification.
SHARKPROJECT International Cooperation Coordinator Dr. Iris Ziegler said: “The unfairness of the procedure, especially the location of the hearing demonstrate that this adjudication process would not have allowed us to properly pursue our strong arguments against the certification of this fishery in a fair hearing. Presenting our arguments about the CAB’s failure to adequately score the tremendous deficiencies in this fishery via telephone or WebEx over the course of a 5-day hearing in the Seychelles would have been totally ludicrous and a farce which we are not willing to play a part of.”
SHARKPROJECT will lodge an official complaint with the MSC about procedural issues related to the Echebastar assessment and the objection process via MSC’s own Complaints Procedure. If not satisfactorily resolved a further complaint could be submitted to ISEAL, the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance.
A complaint will also be lodged wit Accreditation Services International (ASI), the provider of accreditation services for the MSC program, about the conduct of the CAB, Acoura Marine Ltd. IPNLF and SHARKPROJECT allege they failed to act in an independent and impartial manner as required under ASI guidelines and as set out by both ISEAL and the UN FAO Guidelines on Eco-labelling.
Dr Ziegler further states: “This latest experience demonstrates that procedures under the MSC’s Certification Process make a mockery of the accessibility to an objection process for a small NGO. According to the MSC, its Objections Process provides an ‘orderly, structured, transparent and independent process by which stakeholder or client objections …can be resolved’.
In fact, from the start we had to battle with decisions by the MSC, the CAB and the Independent Adjudicator presenting a real barrier to our participation in the SHARKPROJECT strongly urges the MSC to listen to the call made by many other NGOs and scientists, e.g. the Make Stewardship Count Coalition in an open letter from January this year, to urgently review both its Certification Process and the Certification Standard to restore credibility into the label.”
The withdrawal notice cites multiple examples of alleged prejudicial actions and decisions during the course of the Objection Process relating to Echebastar’s second attempt for certification, which began in February 2017. Experienced unfair actions include:
1 Location of the Final Adjudication Hearing in the Seychelles.
SHARKPROJECT were granted a cost waiver for their contribution towards the costs of the objection but then were expected to spend several times more than the waiver for travel expenses to the Seychelles. The costs of attending a hearing in the Seychelles (when all parties to the process are EU-based) are estimated at over
£10,000 per party. Such cost is prohibitive to small NGOs. The alternative, to submit evidence via potentially technically unreliable video link or telephone over 5 days is not an acceptable solution providing fair access to the full proceedings.
- Disclosure of Relevant Documentation
Including no timely access granted to the MSC’s “Interpretations Log” defining key terms and standards underpinning the assessment of the Fishery. This failure, also at issue in previous certification processes, has previously been described by the MSC’s Independent Adjudicator himself as “inconsistent with the important principle of transparency”.
- Time Limits for Objections
A mere 15 working days are given to objectors to read and assess a 480-page technical report on the fishery and complete a lengthy Notice of Objection. A request for an extension was declined, notwithstanding that the CAB had been allowed to revise its Final Report after publication, thereby requiring the objectors to revisit and adjust their submissions.
- Consistent Application of the Rules
Despite the refusal to grant time extensions for various actions to SHARKPROJECT and IPNLF, the MSC granted extra time to the assessing body to re-file its final report and the IA latterly awarded more time for the CAB and Fishery to respond to the Notices of Objection. The CAB and the Fishery were also given additional time to make representations regarding the location of the hearing.
In addition to these issues, there are also serious concerns over actions pre-dating the Objection Process, including the fact that the MSC selected Echebastar to be one of 6 fisheries to take part in a new so-called ‘Streamlining Pilot’ assessment process, despite the fact that it had just failed its first attempt to obtain MSC certification. Many parties including SHARKPROJECT had already communicated to the MSC at the start of this assessment that the fishery should not be considered for inclusion in this pilot, for reasons outlined in Background Notes below.
The Echebastar Fishery catches tuna in the Indian Ocean with 5 large purse seine vessels (> 80 m long) registered in Spain (2) and the Seychelles (3) that fish with more than 80% of activity using sets associated with drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs). A minor part of their activity is with ‘free school’ sets that do not use FADs to attract the fish. It is estimated the Fishery has an annual turnover of approximately €100m catching 35,000 metric tonnes of tuna per year. The tuna catch consists of Skipjack, Yellowfin tuna, Bigeye tuna & Albacore tuna. Only Skipjack qualifies as Unit of Assessment (UoA) for the MSC Certification, however, making up only an estimated 30 to 50% of the total tuna catch.
The Fishery previously sought certification from the MSC in 2015. An objection was then lodged by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF). WWF’s objection, which related to what it called the ‘misapplication of MSC requirements by the certifying body, was upheld and thereby marked one of the two ever successful objections so far.
In 2017, the Fishery re-applied for certification. In February 2018, Acoura Marine Ltd. confirmed in its Final Report that the Fishery had passed the required threshold and, as a result, recommended the fishery for certification against the MSC Standard for Skipjack applying both, free sets and drifting FAD associated sets.
This recommendation became the subject of a further objection by WWF, IPNLF and SHARKPROJECT in March 2018.
If the Fishery is certified, it will be certified for both drifting FAD sets and free school sets. This is significant since Echebastar would thereby be the first ever MSC certification for a tuna fishery using drifting FADs. The use of such FADs is a controversial fishing technique because of the high levels of bycatch of juvenile tuna and endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, including thousands of juvenile silky sharks, determined as vulnerable by the IUCN’s red list. Silky sharks are most affected by FAD associated fishing as the juvenile animals are often associated with those drifting objects and thus get caught as bycatch on most sets. FADs also are associated with loss at sea damaging coral reefs or other vulnerable marine eco-systems.
SHARKPROJECT is an international non-profit organization working for the protection of sharks and their marine environment. Founded in 2002 SHARKPROJECT is an environmental organization focusing on the research and protection of sharks and the promotion of their importance for our marine ecosystems. SHARKPROJECT’s engagement ranges from educational programs for children and adults and the participation in scientific expeditions and research programs to the political engagement for improved protection of our marine ecosystems, reduction of the impacts of the fishing industry on shark mortality, and legislation eliminating shark finning.
For more information please contact Dr. Iris Ziegler
International Cooperation Coordinator SHARKPROJECT Germany e.V.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel.: +491621389