One of Scotland’s most important fisheries has withdrawn from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation process. The North Sea (NS) nephrops fishery, worth in the region of £74 million in 2010, was presented for MSC certification by a consortium of Scottish Producer Organisations and Fishermen’s Associations in 2007 and was expected to pass with flying colours.
The Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) entered both the NS nephrops and NS haddock fisheries into the MSC accreditation process in 2007, following a period of discussion with Scottish Government and other interested parties. The NS haddock fishery was certified in 2010, but the time taken to put the nephrops fishery through the process meant that it had to be reassessed against different criteria.
During this time, ICES had started to make strong recommendations for the functional unit management of nephrops stocks, and the absence of such management was seen as a potential weakness by the assessment team. Provisional results of the assessment indicated that the Fladen grounds would pass the assessment, but none of the other areas of the North Sea would. They also suggested that the Firth of Forth and the Moray Firth could only receive the standard if the management of quota by functional units (FU) was introduced.
The quota for nephrops is currently managed on a regional basis, with allocations made for a sea area as a whole. The northern North Sea is composed of three discrete areas of nephrops abundance, all of which are consistently productive. Functional unit management involves managing each area separately and could involve separating the quota allocation for the three fisheries.
SFSAG has, in the past, openly supported the concept of management at the functional unit (FU) level, but not by functional unit TACS; the group considers this approach to be overly restrictive and unnecessary. The benefits of individual quotas for each fishing area are far outweighed by the disadvantages, in terms of a restriction on activities of the fleet and the administrative chaos that would be caused at both domestic and European level.
The fisheries remain productive and each fishery has its own specific characteristics that assist in ensuring that overexploitation is unlikely. Other methods of FU management are being investigated by the group though a variety of fora, including support for the emerging North Sea Regional Advisory Council (NSRAC) Long Term Management Plan for nephrops.
Mike Park, chairman of SFSAG, said: “The process has been long and arduous and while this course of action is not ideal, we cannot promote the idea of functional unit management by TAC just to obtain a blue tick. The Scottish fleet is at the forefront of sustainable practice, and we are fully supportive of using every means possible to ensure the health of the resource on which we depend. SFSAG remains committed to MSC and will continue to seek sustainability accreditation for other stocks, but experience tells us that it is not an appropriate yard stick for all species.”
Iain MacSween, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation and Board member of SFSAG said: “While we are very disappointed that we have had to make the decision to withdraw from the MSC process, we are unanimous that the decision is correct. The MSC assessment criteria simply do not take into account the reality of the situation for stocks such as this. I firmly believe that the NS nephrops stock is healthy, a fact supported by the science, and that it is managed in a sustainable way. SFO will continue to promote and sell NS nephrops as a truly sustainable choice.”