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Night fishing on-board the White Heather

By Matt Watson, English Fisheries Outreach Officer, MSC

All-nighter. A phrase more commonly associated with parties, students frantically finishing off an essay and now, Cornish sardine fishermen. I recently caught up with Stefan Glisnki, skipper of the White Heather, fishing out of Newlyn in Cornwall for MSC Cornish sardines.

8:30pm

Meeting up with the crew at 8.30pm, I knew that by taking up the offer to spend aWhite Heather SS33 trip out at sea fishing for sardines that I was in for a long night. I therefore came prepared with sugary and caffeine-laden snacks. For the sake of my pride, falling asleep was not an option! All set and ready to go, I jumped on board the White Heather, leaving the historic fishing port of Newlyn behind in the dusky distance. We were off looking for a good catch of Cornish sardines, a name protected by legislation and growing in popularity with consumers looking for a summer BBQ-based treat or simply to have on a Sunday evening on their toast. Although early in the season, the fishing had been steady with the vessel capable of catching over 20 tonnes of sardines in one evening fishing the waters of Mounts Bay.

The Cornish sardine fishery achieved MSC certification in 2010 as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. Following the recent publication of the fishery’s third surveillance audit in August 2013, developments in how this fishery operates have seen a continuing push to improve its performance to what is considered best practice within industry. The boats use ring nets which encircle a shoal of sardines and, with this fishing gear rarely coming in to contact with the seabed, avoid contact with potentially sensitive marine features. Fishing at night through the months of July through to January, sardines are found by the skipper using an echo-sounder [a device for detecting objects and the seabed by measuring the time taken for echoes to return to the listener]. The skippers of ring netting vessels are highly skilled at distinguishing the species by the echo-sounder shape and pattern. However, there are occasions when the fish can play tricks on the crew…

10:30pm

At around 10.30pm, shooting the fishing gear around what appeared to be a dense shoal of sardines, all the signs leading up to bringing the fish on-board were promising… The screech of the ever-keen seabirds circling overhead, the occasional silvery flash of the sardine in the dark waters as the net Imagewas pulled closer to the side of the boat. But then, there was a look of despair from Stefan. The sardines witnessed on the echo-sounder were only a thin layer found on the fringes of the shoal. The main bulk of the shoal was found to be scad. Scad is a low-value non-target species which sardine fishermen avoid. Evasive action meant the fish were ‘slipped’ to live for another day. Slipping is where fishermen release fish from the net whilst still in the water as the catch is either too small or, in this case, not the correct species. With the ring net mesh being very fine in order to protect the fish, this mix of scad and sardine escaped back to the depths unharmed – much to the disappointment of the hungry gulls circling overhead. Slipping is a rare occurrence in the fishery as the target sardines are normally in plentiful supply in the bay, with over 95% of landings recorded as sardine.

2:30am

The hunt for sardines continued late into the night with the first being brought on-board a little after 2.30am. No records set tonight, but as Stefan said, it was still early in the season and word on the radio was that many of the other sardine fishermen were encountering similar fishing conditions. That is the nature of fishing. Under the full moon, we steamed back towards Newlyn with the unmistakeable signs of a new day dawning from the east as we steamed through the gaps into harbour.

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Tying up in Newlyn, the catch of Cornish sardines were landed directly to a waiting lorry to be shipped off for processing and out to supermarkets within a couple of days. While the crew washed down the White Heather, Stefan tidied up the last of the paperwork. This paperwork helps prove a fishery meets the requirements of the MSC standard for sustainable fishing by showing how the fishery operates. In the case of the Cornish sardine fishery, it continues to meet the MSC standard for sustainable fishing. Good news for shoppers keen for those BBQ’d sardines or sardines on toast!

6:00am

I leave the crew of the White Heather at 6.00am, a time I’d normally be waking up in London along with many other commuters making the trip in to the city from the suburbs. Likely to be unaware of the previous evening’s action down in Cornwall, these commuters turned consumers can be thankful for the crews of the Cornish sardine fleet for actively demonstrating their sustainability credentials to ensure there will be sardines to be enjoyed for this and future generations. MW

Reading University’s simple steps to getting MSC certified, thanks to TUCO

Derek Morten, University of Reading

By Derek Morten, University of Reading

To celebrate the launch of a new, quicker, easier route to MSC certification for members of TUCO (The University Caterers Organisation) Ltd (a purchasing organisation in the UK) Derek Morten, Catering Systems Manager at the University of Reading, told us what it means to be one of the first universities certified through this group and how the process works.

Fish is brain food so it is vital for universities. Modern students are concerned about the nutritional value and sustainability of their food and we know that our broad range of customers are concerned about the oceans and seafood sustainability. That means that the opportunity to expand in this market is huge. We were really excited about being one of the first universities to join the TUCO MSC Group; it adds to our other recent awards which include the Green Impact Award, Good Egg Award, Platinum EcoCampus, Green Flag and Eat Out Eat Well Awards.

What the process involved MSC fish

The first step to getting certified was to contact TUCO Ltd who sent us a pack with all the documents we needed. We then planned our purchasing so we had some MSC certified fish to put the MSC ecolabel on once we were certified.  It’s worth bearing in mind, only fish bought through the TUCO frameworks are covered by this system, so only TUCO Ltd fish can be shown on menus with an MSC ecolabel.

Purchasing

We were already serving MSC certified pollock, cod and haddock and we have decided to switch to MSC for all our battered white fish as well. We buy a mix of frozen fillets to batter ourselves and some pre-battered products. As both will be MSC certified it makes it much easier to explain to our kitchen teams and customers which fish is MSC and which isn’t. It’s pretty straightforward, so changing a product brand in order to offer an MSC certified fish product is also a simple process. We’ll probably add more MSC certified products as we go along and there’s information about how to do that in the pack.

Kitchens

The next step was about the sites we wanted to include in the certificate. Every site needed a visit to do some training and to complete a quick audit. The materials for both were included in the pack from TUCO.

block quote2

The only thing our teams needed to do differently was to remember that MSC certified fish always needs to be marked ‘MSC’. For us, that’s easy because we keep frozen fish in its original packaging and, once thawed, it’s kept cling-wrapped and we write ‘MSC’ on the date stickers. It’s important to make sure the MSC certified fish and non-certified fish can’t get mixed up in your kitchen.

Menu

Finally, once we’d received our MSC certificate, we needed to show that we had control over our menu printing. That’s where the ecolabel is actually used. This is easy for us because our menus are decided and printed centrally, so we know in advance which dishes will be MSC labelled and it’s simple to use the ecolabel correctly.

TUCO Ltd

All in all, it took me two days to visit all the kitchens and another few hours to get the paperwork together.

The great news for our customers is that Reading University will now be offering MSC certified fish in our three halls of residence and two restaurants, including Eat at the Square – which we’ve just had refurbished. The MSC ecolabel will also be on student menus for the start of the new next term. We’re delighted that we can make a difference and ensure fish supplies for the future by buying and serving MSC labelled seafood. DM

An input from WWF on Project Inshore

By guest blogger, Tracy Cambridge from WWF UK

Every now and then a project comes along which gets even me excited about the positive direction fisheries management is taking in different parts of the world.  Project Inshore is an exciting opportunity for England’s inshore sector fishers, authorities, markets and NGOs, such as WWF, to collaborate and innovate to ensure that the future of inshore fishing is sustainable.

This project’s aim is to develop bespoke sustainability reviews for each of the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, these will no doubt be a fantastic resource to the fisheries.  These reviews will cover a whole range of issues relating to the findings from the MSC pre-assessment part of the project. The detailed research will be able to identify pockets of work to improve the sustainability of inshore fisheries from data gathering and monitoring of the species caught, to the impacts of different gear types and much more.

This project joins a small raft of similar projects being undertaken on inshore fleets globally to assess them against MSC standards. I personally have been quizzed about this project by colleagues from around the world, so am looking forward to sharing the process and the findings. TC

Natural England and Project Inshore

By Rob Whiteley, Natural England

Part of Natural England’s role, as the Government’s advisor on the natural environment, is to ensure that our seas are managed sustainably and that biodiversity is protected and enhanced for future generations. We have a dedicated team of fishery specialists working closely with regulatory bodies and the industry. Our goal is to promote sustainable fishing whilst still meeting our duties to protect the habitats and species of England’s inshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

We carry out our work at the quayside, with Fisheries Local Action Groups, and at a national level helping Government integrate its revised approach to fisheries management in European Marine Sites. We also work closely with the fishing industry, NGOs, and academic institutions to understand the impacts of fisheries and help find sustainable ways to manage it. Changes to how our inshore seas are protected and increasing fishing pressures mean it’s particularly important to take a holistic view when managing its protection.

Natural England supports the principles and standards around an ecosystem approach and sustainability promoted by Marine Stewardship Council certification together with proactive management and review of its associated fisheries. We were actively involved in the MSC certification process of the Menai Strait Mussel fishery, which, although based in Wales, takes some of its seed mussel from a MPA in northwest England. To demonstrate sustainability of the mussel harvesting we used a set of prior conditions developed with the operator to ensure no damage to the MPA’s protected features. The Welsh mussel fishery is a good example of a certified, healthy, sustainable fishery coexisting with a marine site protected for its nationally important birds and habitats.

Project Inshore itself is a unique and significant piece of work that will review the sustainability of all of England’s inshore fisheries, and rightly involves a wide range of stakeholders that work in and regulate the industry. Natural England is very pleased to be part of the project. We look forward to helping it progress, especially in identifying and developing the opportunities it presents for enhancing sustainable fisheries in our seas. RW

The importance of Project Inshore to the future of the inshore fleet, by NUTFA

By Jerry Percy, New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA)

When I talk to small scale fisheries about the Marine Stewardship Council, the most common responses I get are that ‘it’s only for big boats’, ‘accreditation and re-accreditation are too expensive’ and ‘we don’t sell to supermarkets’.

Now, irrespective of the perception of and the need or otherwise to have fisheries officially accredited, the underlying three principles on which the whole MSC ethos is based are entirely valid and speak for themselves:

  • Sustainable fish stocks
  • Minimising environmental impact
  • Effective management

These surely hold good as the baseline aspirations for all concerned with fisheries and not least the catchers themselves? They certainly have the support of NUTFA as the foundation for the long-term sustainability and profitability of inshore fisheries.

So when Project Inshore was developed, NUTFA was particularly keen to be an integral part of the programme and to help in guiding and advising at every stage.

Inshore fisheries and sustainability

The inshore fisheries concerned take place in the richest and most biologically diverse areas in English waters. At the same time, the vast majority of European Marine Sites and the proposed Marine Conservation Zones are sited inshore, so as inshore fishermen we need to be able to illustrate that we meet the standards that are acceptable to a range of interested parties, as well of course to the marine environment itself.

NUTFA quote

Fisheries around the English coast were traditionally managed by local Sea Fisheries Committees (SFC’s) dedicated to the sustainable use of waters from 0 – 6 miles from the coast. These SFC’s have been superseded by the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA’s) who maintain the same focus on fisheries but with, as the title shows, an additional responsibility to actively consider marine conservation. In much the same way as SFC’s previously, IFCA’s are staffed by dedicated and committed men and women, working with limited, sometimes very limited, resources in pursuit of their aims.

Project Inshore will provide what both they and fishermen need – a road map to long term sustainability.

This is no easy journey, especially in view of the diversity within the inshore fleet. The vast majority of under tens [boats 10 meters and under in length] fish within the inshore zone with vessels ranging from small open skiffs [a shallow, flat-bottomed open boat with sharp bow and square stern] fishing in much the same way as we have for hundreds of years, through to state of the art 9.9 metre vessels with the fishing power of vessels twice their size only a few years ago. These larger vessels account for 50% of the sectoral catch by value yet are only 20% of the under ten fleet by number. The vast majority of the under ten fleet are sub-8 metres in length and the under ten catch altogether comprises of 70% non-quota species, 83% of which is shellfish, with lobster and crab the main components. All in all, three quarters of this sector use passive gears; nets, pots and lines.

The importance of Project Inshore to the survival our inshore fleet

Managing this amazing array of individual elements and impacts is difficult enough solely from a regulatory perspective. Throw in the ever increasing marine conservation aspects and the public interest in all things fishy, together with the need for fishermen to have access to sufficient resources to maintain their businesses and there is a real danger that small independent fishers, irrespective of their environmental, social and economic credentials get lost in the wash.

By mapping all the English inshore fisheries and creating ‘sustainability’ plans, management plans by another name, crucially with the direct input from the fishermen themselves, this project gives us the best possible chance to ensure the long-term survival and prosperity of this vital part of the English fleet. JP

Project Inshore – A view from Defra

By Andy Carroll, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

UK Ministers always seek to ensure that the needs of the inshore fishing fleet are taken into account when making policy decisions concerning the UK fleet as a whole. We know how important the fleet is to coastal communities where they exist and in upholding a centuries old tradition of small scale coastal fishing in The British Isles. We want to ensure that we have healthy seas and fish stocks and an industry that fishes sustainably in order to guarantee that this important national resource will be available for future generations.

We consider Project Inshore to be an important initiative as it will give a comprehensive picture of the status of inshore fisheries including better information about the relevant stocks to support more informed management and business decisions.

In recent years the UK has worked hard with the European Commission and other Member States in order to improve the sustainability of fish stocks. This has included taking extremely tough decisions such as reducing Total Allowable Catches for some of our most important fishing stocks in order to enable them to recover. Through the latest negotiations to reform the Common Fisheries Policy we have secured a commitment to ending the practice of discards and we will need to work out how we apply this new rule to the inshore fleet. Work is currently under way to determine the levels of discarding and we will be working with the industry to ensure they are able to implement any new scheme properly.

Project Inshore providing a valuable steer for the inshore industry

Our approach to sustainability has not been an easy road for fishermen, though it is clear that it is now working as more of our stocks are being fished at sustainable levels and are on target to meet commitments to reach Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2015. There is still much to do and it is clear that many fisheries will not reach that target. Project Inshore will provide the industry with a valuable steer showing what needs to be done to reach the requirements for Marine Stewardship Council accreditation. Although applying for this status is purely a commercial decision for those involved in the fisheries, an indication of the status of the stock will help us to determine, in the case of stocks that do not have regular assessments from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), how close they are to being fished at Maximum Sustainable Yield.

DEFRA is currently exploring ways in which scientists can work more closely with the inshore fleet to ensure that data collected by the fleet can be fed into any fishery assessments. The work of Project Inshore should help in informing us what sort of issues arise in different fisheries and we can tailor industry and science partnerships to meet specific needs.

We are pleased to be associated with this project and look forward to working with all the partners involved in order to deliver the final phase of the work. Achieving sustainable inshore fisheries is a Government priority and we welcome initiatives such as Project inshore that support that objective. AC

Introducing Murdock the Cat

Hello, my name is Murdock which in Gaelic means Belonging to the Sea. I’m a Fisherman’s cat so it’s no surprise that I’m the mascot for Fish and Kids. This is a great project that gets MSC certified seafood on the menus of over 4,000 primary schools in England. That’s more than 800,000 hungry mouths to feed. I travel the country to talk, teach and play with children about the importance of sustainable seafood. You can check out my map to find out if your child’s school is MSC certified. This map will be getting updated to become even better really soon.

As a cat I love fish, so it’s really important to me that we all work together to make sure there’ll be plenty around for generations to come. That means looking after fish stocks and protecting the marine environment. Also making sure fisheries are well managed for the future. These are things that the MSC does brilliantly. But sustainable seafood doesn’t have to be serious or complicated. That’s why I’ve filled my website with fun games so children can see how easy it is to catch, cook and eat MSC certified sustainable seafood.

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Also on my website you can find the teaching materials I’ve developed for teachers, which are linked to the national curriculum. Once children in my MSC certified schools have enjoyed a tasty MSC certified lunch, they can learn a bit more about how we can look after fish stocks in their lessons. I’ve also made some fun stuff for the schools canteen staff to bring MSC to life when children are having lunch. Are your children as tall as a salmon?

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Every now and again I turn up at some of my certified schools for special assemblies. It’s great to meet the teachers, but more importantly to meet the children to see for myself how passionate they are about sustainable fish. I mean, who wouldn’t want to enjoy tasty sustainable fish for many more generations to come?

I’m going to be keeping you all posted about my travels across the country, and sometimes even across the seas and oceans, promoting MSC certified seafood. From the harbours and ports, to the fish factories and delivery vans, and of course at my MSC certified schools, as well as all the interesting people I meet along the way. You can follow my sustainable seafood exploits on fb.com/MSCintheUK. MTC (Murdock the Cat)

From North Shields to Berwick, an insight into the Northumberland inshore lobster fishery

Matthew Watson, MSC English Fisheries Outreach Officer

By Matthew Watson, MSC English Fisheries Outreach Officer

I have recently spent three days accompanying the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) on routine patrols along the Northumberland coast to discuss Project Inshore. Engaging directly with inshore fishermen and wholesalers on the quayside or in local fishing huts is a good way to stimulate discussion, trade thoughts and views on the best ways to manage fisheries in terms of sustaining stocks and protecting the wider marine environment. It was with this thought process that I faced the cold February winds and the worst northerly storm of the year to travel from North Shields up to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland.

Efforts to maintain and protect lobster stocks

The Northumberland inshore fisheries are dominated by a pot fishery targeting lobsters. The local management reflects the focus on this fishery by limiting pot numbers to 800 per boat in

Northumberland Lobster

the inshore area and restricting which bait a fisherman can use. Such management measures are likely to have benefitted the fishery with recent landings of lobster at an unprecedented high. The Northumberland IFCA take the management of the lobster fishery further by buying berried hens back from local shellfish merchants for release back into inshore waters. Berried hens are female lobsters which carry the unhatched eggs under their tail.

By marking these lobsters with a notch in the tail, the female lobster is then protected from fishing effort until the notch has grown out – a likely timescale of two years. This will allow the female lobsters to release their eggs in their natural environment and further strengthen the inshore lobster stock. What was pleasing to see is that most fishermen recognise that this management is beneficial to the long term sustainability of the fishery, with some voluntarily contributing to the purchase of the lobsters. Others take the opportunity to mark (notch) their own lobsters before releasing them which can protect what is known as the brood stock – the lobsters which are sexually mature and capable of sustaining the local population.

Project Inshore

As well as hearing how the local fishermen feel about the state of their fishery, it was important for me to explain how Project Inshore works and may affect them as inshore fishermen. As the project team continue to work on the Stage Two MSC pre-assessment/gap analysis stage it was important to explain that the fishery would be reviewed on three levels:

  1. The status of the target fishery
  2. The ecosystem interaction with that fishery
  3. The management systems in place to protect the fishery

Having described the pre-assessment process to fishermen and how this will feed into the Stage Three sustainability review with its intent in guiding inshore management, the current state of the domestic markets was discussed. With the Project Inshore team engaging with key retailers and wholesalers who may look to source locally caught where possible, there is the potential opportunity to strengthen the domestic market, feeding into their sourcing strategies and allowing further opportunities to switch species where appropriate. As picked up on in documentaries such as The Fishermen’s Apprentice with Monty Halls, a lot of English seafood is exported to European markets where the demand for high quality English shellfish is insatiable. Project Inshore is looking to strengthen the sustainability credentials of the inshore fisheries and provide IFCAs with a further tool in their toolbox for management and research. This can help provide some retailers and wholesalers who adhere to a very strong sourcing policy being able to look at inshore fisheries in a new light.

The Stage Two reports highlighting the pre-assessment findings will be available in May 2013 on the Project Inshore website. This will be followed by the Stage Three Sustainability Reviews in January 2014. The intent of the Sustainability Reviews will be to highlight best practice in inshore management and offer IFCAs a roadmap for future management and research bringing inshore fisheries up to a level deemed sustainable to the MSC’s standard. MW

More information

Project Inshore: http://www.seafish.org/fishermen/fishing/project-inshore

Northumberland IFCA: http://www.nsfc.org.uk/

Will there be a new ‘Gold rush’ on krill?

By Dr David Agnew, MSC Standards Director

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘What happens if the krill fishery suddenly grows out of control?’ What’s to stop a bunch of boats tooling up and charging down to the Antarctic and catching all of the krill?

People have been warning of a massive increase in the krill fishery since the 1990s and it still hasn’t happened for two very good reasons. Over the course of this blog, I want to explain the legal and scientific reasons why it won’t happen and also the economic reasons why this idea of krill suddenly getting huge fishing pressure is simply not plausible.

Why can’t krill fishing in the Southern Ocean expand?

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, normally known as CCAMLR (‘Cam-Lar’) was set up in 1982 precisely to forestall the unregulated expansion of any fishery – for krill or fish – in the Southern Ocean. It is a legally-binding international convention between 25 countries to ensure the conservation of the Antarctic’s marine ecosystems. It counts amongst its members most of the large distant water fishing countries and almost all Antarctic Treaty parties, including all those fishing for krill – Chile, China, Japan, Korea and Norway. The Commission doesn’t prevent fishing, provided it is carried out in a sustainable way. However, the central objective of the Convention is conservation whilst allowing rational use and it requires that the effects of fishing at other points in the ecosystem are taken into account and minimised.

Very low catch limits protecting seals and penguins

David-blog-quote-1At present, there’s a catch limit of 620,000 tonnes for krill which – even if it was all taken – would only be around 1% of the total estimated biomass. Now that’s pretty small and certainly sustainable. At present, the countries operating there are catching less than a third of that so the total catch now is around a third of 1% of the total biomass. At its highest level, in the 1980s, the total catch only reached 500,000t.

CCAMLR could set a higher catch limit, above 620,000t but only if the CCAMLR parties agree to subdivide the catch between very small areas close to the coast and larger areas away from the coast, and only up to a total of 5.6 million tonnes – less than 10% of the 60.3 million tonnes of krill in the south Atlantic, leaving most of the krill for predators such as fish, birds and mammals to take.

David-blog-quote-2The reason for this subdivision is to limit the catch that can be taken close to penguin and seal breeding colonies. Even within the current 620,000t limit, the extent to which catch could be concentrated in one area is restricted because individual limits apply in each of 4 subareas – the South Shetland Islands, the South Orkney Islands, the South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands. Under any subdivision associated with an increase in the catch limit beyond 620,000t, the majority of the catch would have to be caught further out at sea, away from predator colonies, where krill swarms are much less dense, and because of this, in practice it would be uneconomic for any vessel to fish in these open ocean areas. So it is likely that the catch limit will remain at 620,000t for some time.  Bear in mind, Area 48 is nearly three times the size of the EU. Catching krill in the open ocean is simply not economically viable, because they are too widely spaced in the open seas. This is the reality of why krill fishing is likely to be restricted to 620,000 tonnes, 1% of the biomass, for the foreseeable future.

CCAMLR closely regulates the catch of krill, using a combination of satellite monitoring and on-board observers. Intention to enter the fishery must be notified to the Commission 6 months in advance of the season. If the catch nears a regional limit the fishery will be closed. CCAMLR is acknowledged to be amongst the best international management systems in the world. An expansion of the fishery simply could not happen without it being closely controlled by CCAMLR within the scientifically calculated catch limits.

Practical problems with krill fishing

People sometimes ask me, what happens if a country or a company decides to send boats there illegally? Well, there are also some very practical and economic reasons why illegal krill fishing won’t suddenly take off. Firstly, getting a boat to the Antarctic is incredibly expensive. You need to have a good business plan to do it. After all, the krill fishery has been in action for decades. The largest catches were taken in the 1980s, 400,000t to 500,000t per year, mostly by the old USSR where fishing economics were very different from today. Since then, the catch has risen only very gradually from 100,000 t to 200,000 per year. If it was going to turn into a gold rush, it would have done so a long time ago.

Most illegal fishing is conducted on small catches of high value fish where the economics are very strong – tuna, for instance. IUU fishing on bulk catches such as krill is not unheard of, but most unlikely. Krill are incredibly difficult to catch intact: they are very delicate, and there is a very rapid-onset self-digestion process that starts as soon as they die. If you leave them in a pile on the deck, they will decompose within a few minutes.

So, as you can see, it isn’t just a matter of fitting new nets. To think that a whole fleet of ships could somehow re-tool and sail down there and catch lots of krill, is simply not plausible. The legal measures put in place by all of the CCAMLR convention countries and the sheer practicalities of making it happen, mean that krill is in very safe hands. DA

Dr David Agnew, MSC Standards Director

 

Shetland scallops: how a dredge fishery got MSC certified

Claire Pescod MSC - MSC fisheries outreach manager, UKBy Claire Pescod, MSC UK Fisheries Outreach Manager

One of the things we get asked a lot is “How did a dredge fishery get MSC certified?” It’s a reasonable question. Dredgers don’t have the best reputation with environmentalists and, in my heart, I count myself as an environmentalist and I think this certification is great news. So what gives Shetland the edge?

I’m often heard talking about Shetland’s strong history of spatial planning, closed areas, fishermen’s input, links to good science and the fact the they have a regulated fishery, all of which contribute to their achievement of MSC certification.  While the achievement of MSC certification is down to a combination of a number of things this blog is a chance for me to go into a little more detail, to help explain a little more about what sets this fishery apart from some others.

A strong history of spatial planning and fishermen’s input

Shetland was part of a Scottish Government trial on Marine Spatial Planning which looked at all activities, habitats, features and interactions in Shetland’s marine area and mapped them all.  The result is a really good understanding of what is out there and where everything happens which can then inform decisions on where certain activities – such as scallop dredging – should and shouldn’t be taking place.  During the process Shetland fishermen worked with the pilot providing data and information and even voluntarily closed areas to fishing to protect sensitive marine habitats like horse mussel beds.  The result was a culture of closed areas and fishermen’s involvement.

Links to good science

Shetland have good links to science through close working and collaboration with NAFC Marine Centre which has resulted in the availability of comprehensive data sets stretching back many years which were used to inform the MSC assessment. They also make for strong foundations for management decisions.

A regulated fishery

MSC certified Shetland scallops

MSC certified Shetland scallops

Probably key to pulling everything together – Shetland fisheries are controlled through a ‘Regulating Order’. This is a piece of law under the 1967 Seafisheries Act that means that they are able to control exactly who comes into the fishery and can control fishing effort, limit where people fish and even close a fishery if thought necessary. And what has brought all these together is partnership and collaboration in an Island community that understands the need for sustainability for future generations.

Detail, detail, detail…

One thing I find interesting is that when SSMO entered the dredge scallop fishery into assessment, they also entered their lobsters. A lot of people assumed that, as it is a small scale, shellfish fishery using creels (or pots) that it would get through the assessment relatively easily.  But that was not to be.  The lobster fishery failed to meet the MSC standard (on stock information) and was not certified, while at the same time the dredged scallop fishery was certified. For me, that was an important reminder that we can’t just look at one aspect of a fishery like gear type or scale and make an assumption.  I think the beauty of the MSC programme is that it looks at every fishery individually and every fishery is assessed against the same, globally recognised standard where a fishery’s own merits and issues are examined.

Shetland fishermen still hope to gain MSC certification for their lobster fishery and are working on the issues that were flagged up in the assessment process. For me, and many others at MSC, this highlights one of MSC’s strengths, being a driver for change in an industry that has woken up to the need for a sustainable future.

Shetland has set a great example of best practice and is one of those leading the way in UK fisheries.  In theory, there is no reason why other scallop dredge fisheries with similar controls, spatial management and protection of delicate areas shouldn’t follow in their footsteps.

That’s one of the best things about the Shetland dredge fishery getting certified. They’ve shown other scallop dredge fisheries what they’ll need to do in order to become a sustainable and well managed fishery and pass an MSC assessment. This may not be easy, they’ll likely have to make a number of changes and I certainly can’t promise that they will pass. But, if they follow the Shetland example, there is no reason that with some hard work other scallop dredgers shouldn’t, one day, be certified as sustainable. CP

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