North Sea haddock wins MSC approval
November 12 2010 Lewis Smith
Haddock on ice
North Sea haddock has been accepted as an environmentally acceptable dish by the Marine Stewardship Council following the introduction of a series of measures to reduce bycatch of cod and whiting.
The decision by the MSC to certify haddock within the area of the North Sea fished by the 192 vessels of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) was welcomed by conservationists, ministers and the industry.
However, the decision was criticised by Greenpeace which was unhappy that the MSC has allowed bottom trawling, without an attempt at promoting more selective forms of capture, such as gears that exclude the overfished cod.
Haddock has been available in the North Sea in large quantities for years, unlike the cod, but the sustainability of the fishery had long been in question because of the quantity of bycatch.
Levels of cod and whiting, both species which have suffered serious declines, taken by boats hunting for haddock were of particular concern.
But measures overseen as part of Scotland’s Conservation Credit Scheme (CCS) such as the imposition of short-term voluntary closures of areas of the North Sea to fishing vessels have achieved significant reductions in bycatch levels, according to fishermen.
Critics say there are still too few observers on board vessels to check this or to spot other problems, though CCTV has been fitted to vessels.
The reductions were, however, recognised by ICES which in its 2010 advice described the haddock fishery as being “sustainably harvested”.
But it cautioned that discards could rise again in 2011: “Further improvements to gear selectivity measures, allowing for the release of small fish, would be highly beneficial not only for the haddock stock, but also for the survival of juveniles of other species that occur in mixed fisheries along with haddock.”
Dr Mireille Thom, marine policy officer at WWF Scotland, said the conservation organisation was delighted at the success of the conservation credits scheme and welcomed the certification of North Sea haddock.
She said: “In Scotland they put in place the Scottish scheme which involved quite a number of measures to reduce cod bycatch.
“WWF has been very supportive of the conservation credits scheme because it is a system that involves industry, government, scientists and other stakeholders and gets them to sit down together to look at a problem and come up with solutions. That’s a very important process.”
She added that certification wasn’t “the end of the story” because conditions imposed by the MSC, and which must be satisfied within five years, meant further improvements could be expected.
Aside from temporary closures of sections of the sea, measures aimed at reducing bycatch included installing CCTV cameras on boats, allowing a few observers on board fishing vessels, and using fishing gear specially designed to reduce the quantity of cod and other bycatch species.
The haddock fishery is worth at least £34 million annually, with 27,507 tonnes being landed in 2009. This year the total allowable catch is almost 36,000 tonnes. The conservation credits scheme was adopted by 439 Scottish and around 30 English and Welsh vessels. The SFSAG haddock fishery has 192 vessels.
Steven Tait, of the MSC, said: “The certification of Scottish haddock is a testament to the hard work, dedication and sustainable fishing practices of the haddock fishermen that make up the SFSAG.
“I know that UK and European retailers and restaurants have been looking forward to this fishery’s certification and today they see their patience rewarded. Scottish haddock is culturally one of the most important UK, MSC certified fisheries.”
The demands by retailers for a sustainable fishery have been led by Marks & Spencer which within days of the MSC certification being awarded on October 29 had introduced MSC Scottish smoked haddock.
Mike Park, chairman of SFSAG, the certification was a statement of intent by the Scottish fishing industry. “What it does is benchmark the mood of the Scottish industry in our approach to sustainability. We are now looking to bring more stocks in on the back of that. We hope North Sea nephrops [langoustine] is next – it’s a big one for us,” he said.
“We are very aware of the societal demands. We are now responding appropriately in terms of sustainability, stability and generally in our outlook.”
Willie MacKenzie, Greenpeace's oceans expert, said: "Everyone acknowledges and welcomes steps to decrease bycatch and discards, and incentivise more selective fishing methods.
“Nowhere is that more essential than the overfished North Sea . But when the MSC–accredited haddock fishery still includes bottom-trawled fish, and fails to include areas set aside as no-take marine reserves, it’s hard for consumers to be sure what they are buying into.
"The MSC needs to step up its game and improve its standards to allow customers and retailers to have confidence in its label and confidence that any fish they buy is sourced in the most responsible way possible. Similarly we can’t just assume that everything is rosy in the North Sea , whilst examples of illegal fishing are still making the headlines."
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