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Learning from the experts in South Sinai

By Christopher Poonian, PhD student at Nottingham University and recipient of an MSC scholarship

The warm, blue waters of the serene Egyptian Red Sea surrounding the South Sinai Peninsula are world-renowned as one of the world’s hotspots of marine biodiversity. Endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and cetaceans depend on this unique environment for their survival. The area’s astounding coral reefs are home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 40 species of star fish, 25 species of sea urchins, more than a 100 species of mollusks and 150 species of crustaceans. South Sinai is also of considerable socioeconomic importance, for the Bedouin people who rely on the area’s rich marine resources for their daily protein and for the nationally-significant revenue generated from millions of international tourists who flock to the region for its world-class scuba diving and wilderness desert treks. These contrasting socioeconomic and human needs must now be carefully balanced with the sustainable management of the regions national resources, and now is a prime opportunity to develop such initiatives, following the recent popular revolution in Egypt.

My PhD, supported by the MSC, focusses on the traditional management of coral reef fisheries by the Bedouin tribes of South Sinai. Over the last few months, I have been completing initial stages of my fieldwork, based Coral reef, Dahabin the town of Dahab. Much of my time has been spent developing the trust of a number of expert Bedouin fishermen and women. The first objective of my work is to actually identify the Bedouin Arabic terms used to describe specific species, fishing gears and grounds. This has proved more complicated than expected, because of limited literacy, the nuances of the Bedouin dialect and my, still embarrassingly basic, Arabic skills! Later on I will be gathering detailed information on tribal codes related to fishing practices. In the field, I will talk to local fishers, conduct surveys of fishing effort and snorkel and scuba dive fishing sites to evaluate the in situ ecological effects of Bedouin traditional management.

Many Bedu are suspicious of state authority because they take great pride in self-governance following tribal laws and codes of conduct. On the whole, this approach has worked well for them and has persisted since pre-Islamic times. Through my research, I hope to capitalize on the strengths of this tribal code to open dialogue between state enforced Marine Protected Area management bodies and the local Bedouin coastal peoples. I feel that the Bedu have a huge wealth of knowledge that can teach us how to better manage fisheries, both in the definition of locally-acceptable regulations and the successful enforcement of these measures. As traditional Bedouin culture fades, and young people choose a more sedentary, material way of living, there is a danger that this valuable information could be lost forever if not documented. CP

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What’s happening in PNA tuna?

James SimpsonBy James Simpson, MSC UK Communications Manager

Last week, the Dutch tuna canner, Anova, wrote an open letter to the PNA tuna fishery expressing its support for the MSC certified component that it hopes to source from and asking “What’s taking so long?” It’s a question we’ve heard a couple of times in the industry and thought a brief explanation of what’s happening might be useful.

PNA tuna, the PNA western Pacific skipjack free-school set purse seine tuna fishery, was MSC certified in December 2012. The important bit in that rather long name is the ‘free-school’ component. Among the boats fishing in the PNA waters, they fish without FADs when they can, but sometimes fish around FADs. Only the free school component is MSC certified. That leads to a challenge for traceability: clearly companies – like Anova – want to source from the MSC certified, free school component but the fish end up on the same boat and there is no way to tell them apart without cast-iron traceability in place. That’s what’s being trialled at the moment and the slow pace of progress is what is frustrating Anova.

MSC’s ‘Tuna guy’, Bill Holden explains: “Before the process could be trialled in the lead up to an audit and Chain of Custody certification, the PNA Office has invested in the training of observers and fishing crews so that free school sets are properly identified from the start.  These observers are also critical to ensure that the MSC certified skipjack remains separated from other skipjack on-board and traceable up to the point where the fish are unloaded.  And if this tuna is transhipped on fish carriers, this also must be kept separate, traceable and verifiable to comply with the CoC certification.”

Why don’t you ban FADs?

Some people will ask: “Why doesn’t the MSC just ban the FAD fishing?” and the answer is nearly as simple as the question: it isn’t within the MSC’s power or remit to define how a fishery fishes. What we can do is help identify the most sustainable options – in this case the free school component – and, through MSC certification recognise and reward that sustainable fishing. By creating an additional benefit to the free school component, MSC can create an additional market demand for the MSC certified, free school tuna that will encourage customers to preference it in their buying. This in turn should encourage the fishing fleets to increase the amount of free school sets vs FAD sets.

So what’s happening in the fishery? The trials that have been underway for the past few months are aimed at finding a way to demonstrate to the auditors that the free school fish will be kept separate from the FAD-caught fish. Until the auditors are convinced, the PNA fishery won’t be able to attain Chain of Custody certification and claim its MSC label for the certified fish. The good news is that the PNA fishery expects to have its traceability system audited and approved soon. With so much demand from the market, that should mean that we don’t have much longer to wait. JS

What the Olympics did for the oceans

By Jess Telsnig. Durham University

As the autumn descends on London, it feels like an age since the Olympics finished. Yet, in the foodservice arena, their effects are still being felt and an event in the last week looks set to be one of the best examples yet of the London Olympics bringing about change in the foodservice sector: The first catering supplier to get certified because they were inspired by the Olympics.

The enduring theme throughout the build-up to London 2012 was ‘Legacy’ and seafood sourcing was hailed as one of the great contenders for legacy gold. With around 14 million meals served throughout the Games, organisers of London 2012 (LOCOG) had been working hard to create ‘the greenest Games yet’ through (in part) the London 2012 Food Vision. For seafood, this stipulated that caterers must only use demonstratably sustainably sourced fish, including MSC certified fish wherever possible.

LOCOG also decided to display the MSC ecolabel on menu boards throughout the Games – something that proved very popular! This is particulary important because, according to MSC research, two thirds of people are concerned about falling fish stocks but often they are confused about which fish are sustainable.  Having the MSC ecolabel on menus acheived two things:
– Firstly for caterers and suppliers it showed that it is possible to source sustainable fish for large scale events.
– Secondly, it demonstrated to the millions of Games fans that they can choose to eat sustainably when they eat out as well as buying packaged products.

So, what about that catering supplier? Simsons Fisheries Sustainability Advisor, Philippa Raven, made it clear: “We chose to get Marine Stewardship Council certification as – following the London 2012 Olympics – we wanted to offer certified sustainable fish to a wide range of our customers.” That’s exactly the sort of commitment that LOCOG and their (many) stakeholders in the NGO community were hoping for as a food legacy. Established in the 1970s, Simsons supply fish all over London and the South East (they even do retail deliveries so you can order at home). That will open up the chance to buy MSC certified fish to all of their customers.

Looking further afield, there are encouraging signs that the seeds planted by the Food Vision are continuing to grow, The Food Legacy Programme, was established to help caterers realise the Food Vision, and it asked businesses across the UK to commit to using sustainably sourced food. A broad cross-section of contract cateres, LEAs and restaurants have already signed up to the Food Legacy and the Sustainable Fish City Pledge. As a result, many of them are now looking at MSC certification or – in some cases – already MSC certified.

With London’s Food Legacy begining to make itself felt, there’s one important question remaining: Can Rio do even better? JT