The World is Their Pearl Oyster


Australian South Sea Pearling Industry is innovative, re-emergent and is embracing the rarity of Australian South Sea Pearls.

Over the weekend (12 November 2016) the Wall Street Journal ran the story on its website For Australia’s Pearl Farmers, the Wild Is Their Oyster.

The story (written by WSJ journalist Vera Sprothen) that charters the journey of the pearling industry over the past few years, and with a point of view that is both refreshing and rare, celebrates quality and rarity in favour of quantity and mass production:


The WSJ website also features a video that supplements the story above (click here to view it):

The video is high quality and augmented with footage from the recent National Geographic/Paspaley production “The Secret Life of Pearls.” Again it refreshingly provides some welcomed clarity with respect to an industry that isn’t well know. What is more it provides some astonishing truths about the industry in a global context:

Australia is the last place in the world where pearls are cultured in wild oysters. They are handpicked from the ocean floor by divers…”

In the last few years china has taken over the global market with cheap mass produced freshwater pearls. A single mussel, often cultivated in flooded rice paddies, can yield as many as 50 pearls, whereas a[n Australian] south sea oyster grows just one.”

Experts say that the quality of cheap pearls is proving every year. However, unlike [Australian] south sea pearls, the Chinese ones are irregularly shaped and bleached with chemicals to give them a white gloss.”

[I note that with respect to pearl quality and rarity, one chinese pearl jewellery producer points out in the video when referring to a pearl strand: “This is a big size south sea pearl from Australia. This is the perfect pearl. In every piece the colours match, the surface is very clean and the size is very big.

The video notes a sea-change in approaches by the Australian pearling industry.  The industry is innovating and branching out into the ability for consumers to feel the pearling experience, to bring the consumer closer even insofar as they can see the “grunt behind the glamour.”  The Australian Industry is also embracing their demonstrable sustainability, their harvest of wild oysters by hand, their gentle touch and minimal interaction with the environment and the harmony that is created between the pearl producer and the untamed waters of the Kimberley which is perfectly encapsulated in an Australian South Sea Pearl.

Personally I enjoyed the story. I look forward to the Australian South Sea Pearling Industry to continue to make their global mark.

“All the Glistens is not Gold”: In a World first Australian South Sea Pearls to undergo Assessment against the MSC Standard

 I note that they [the Australian Pearling Industry] are due for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – which would certainly make Australian South Sea Pearls the ethical and responsible environmental choice … and make rare Australian pearls rarer still.


Isn’t it Time We Support Truly Sustainable Fisheries? (Reblog from ‘The Good Catch’)


I just read this post (Isn’t it Time We Support Truly Sustainable Fisheries?) by freelance writer and photographer Ret Talbot that he posted yesterday (26 April 2013) – and had to reblog it.

It would seem that we both share a point of view where we support responsible and sustainable fisheries… and doubly support fisheries development in small Pacific Island States.

Ret Talbot makes this statement in the post below:

Truly sustainable fisheries, ones that put socio-economic sustainability on par with environmental sustainability, are a way to bridge the abyss between producers and consumers. They are a way to insure local fishers and fisher communities are part of the discussion when we discuss issues directly affecting developing island nations. There are many forces–market and otherwise–that continually sideline the local fisher from the so-called “big picture” debates regarding fisheries. There are too many initiatives–often thinly veiled under the guise of conservation–that would entirely cut local fishers out of the equation.”

I couldn’t agree more. The sustainable approach that Talbot is advocating is one the fundamental principles that drives this blog… An adherence to the Rio Venn diagrammatic approach to sustainability which ascribes equal weighting to the three pillars of sustainability – environmentalsocial and economic.

In a post ( ( dated 20February, 2012  I wrote:

The definition of sustainability that emerged as a result of the Rio Declaration of 1992, continues to to drive my own conception of what is sustainable and what is not. If one is acquainted with principle from its building blocks – like this one, that has subsequently formed the foundational definition of sustainability in many other international instruments like Agenda 21  – one will be able to avoid the politically positioning and emotive rhetoric that too often surrounds issues of Social equityEconomic Development and Environmental Interaction that are the domain of the sustainability principle.

Actually the definition of sustainability emerged from the premise that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” At the 2005 World Summit it was noted that this requires the reconciliation of environmentalsocial equity and economic demands – the “three pillars” of sustainability or (the 3 E’s).This view has been expressed as a Venn diagram of three overlapping ellipses indicating that the three pillars of sustainability are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing. Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship (or in New Zealand Kaitiakitanga) and the responsible management of resource use.”

The Venn Diagrammatic Principle of Sustainability

Isn’t it Time We Support Truly Sustainable Fisheries?

Posted on April 26, 2013 by 

Developed nations view ‘beachfront property’ as an exclusive, premium property. In our case, [it is] inundation, overfishing, hardship, and challenging as we continue to live on it as ‘home’. – Marshall Islands Fisheries Director Glen Joseph

I report quite frequently on fisheries in developing island nations of the Pacific, and I am always aware of how different perceptions can be. It is interesting to speak with local fishers in the developing world about the developed market countries in which their fishes land, as well as the end consumer of the products they harvest. In many cases, the products harvested in these developing island nations end up as, essentially, luxury goods in the developed world. Whether it’s a piece of sashimi grade yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) or a conspicuous angelfish (Chaetodontoplus conspicillatus) for a saltwater aquarium, it can be difficult for a local fisher to truly envision what a sushi restaurant in Laguna Beach, California or a large reef aquarium in Denver, Colorado looks like.

For a fisher who has more than likely earned a fraction of the fishes’ prices at the retail point-of-sale, understanding the lifestyle and financial capability of an individual who might spend a hundred dollars on a sushi meal or $2500 on an aquarium fish is akin to trying to understand life on Mars. Likewise, truly understanding the fisher’s situation is equally challenging for the developed world consumer making a purchase of a luxury fisheries product originating from a developing island nation.

In many cases, the same consumer capable of purchasing a product from a developing island fishery is in a position to weigh-in, if not directly impact, many of the issues facing developing island nations. Moving up the food chain, developed nations where these fishery products are landed are, more often than not, in a position to influence what happens on the ground in these developing island nations. And so we in the developed world–over sushi and in front of our aquaria–discuss global climate change, overfishing, ocean acidification, and a host of other issues as little more than that: issues. Too often, we don’t see the fisher who is being affected by the issues. Too often we make choices based on our own agendas, financial situations and time tables…on what we think is right based on our experience.

As Marshall Islands Fisheries Director Glen Joseph has pointed out time-and-again, this dynamic needs to change.

Truly sustainable fisheries, ones that put socio-economic sustainability on par with environmental sustainability, are a way to bridge the abyss between producers and consumers. They are a way to insure local fishers and fisher communities are part of the discussion when we discuss issues directly affecting developing island nations. There are many forces–market and otherwise–that continually sideline the local fisher from the so-called “big picture” debates regarding fisheries. There are too many initiatives–often thinly veiled under the guise of conservation–that would entirely cut local fishers out of the equation.

“We have all heard it from the international community on the wide-ranging issues affecting us.” says Joseph. “We have all seen it as first-hand victims of the effects of the global community on food security, overfishing and climate change. Yet [the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) group of the United Nations] is basically being pushed to one side while issues effecting them continue to be debated.” The Group is currently made up of 52 small island developing states in three regions.

Consumers in the developed world–you, me, the guy next to you at the sushi restaurant or behind you in line at the local saltwater aquarium store–we can begin to make a difference with something as simple as demanding the fisheries products available to us at the point-of-sale are sourced from sustainable fisheries where local fishers and fisher communities are directly benefitting in a sustainable manner from the sale of the products they harvest. Does that mean we will need to be willing to pay more for these fisheries products? At times it does, but isn’t the benefit to ecosystems and the people living adjacent and in close connection to those ecosystems worth it?

As Joseph implores us, it’s time we viewed so-called “beach-front property” throughout the developing island nations of the Pacific for what it is–somebody’s home. It’s time we aligned our environmental initiatives and market agendas with the people who will be most impacted in the immediate future by our erudite discussions and lofty ideals. It’s time we ask questions about where the fisheries products we buy originate, and it’s time we use our purchasing power to support sustainable fisheries.

Sustainable management optimises value: The penny is dropping – and it is great to see!


My wife and I were talking about healthy eating yesterday… we talk about it alot. We both eat lots of seafood as we are aware of how good it is for us.

For example:

  • 125g (½ cup) green mussels has 4.6mg of Iron (the is more than 2 grilled lean lamb leg steaks (116g) and about the same as 1 grilled lean beef fillet steak (125g))
  • Prawns, crabs, squid and octopus and some fishes are packed with vitamins, minerals and fish oils (Omega-3 -DHA and EPA – key fatty acids known to prevent or mitigate common chronic diseases)
  • Oysters are high in protein, zinc and Omega-3. Low in cholesterol
  • Mussels are a high in selenium, iron, folic acid, Vitamin A, B vitamins, iodine and zinc
  • Mussels also have the highest level of Omega-3 out of the shellfish and are rich in folic acid and vitamin B12
  • Fish is high in low-fat high quality protein
  • In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, fish is a high in vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium

The health benefits of seafood vis-a-vis red meat are astronomical… Consequently the demand for seafood has sky-rocketed… Yet unlike the old adage assures us, ” there is not many more fish in the sea.”  Wild fish stocks are a finite resource, vulnerable to overfishing.

Meeting the increased global consumer demand for seafood now and into the future is a real challenge… One that the Seafood Industry is meeting it would seem…

Trawler Hauling Nets. Source: transferred to Commons by User:Faisal Hasan

Trawler Hauling Nets.
transferred to WikiCommons by User:Faisal Hasan

I read this article by Jason Holland in Seafood News (22 April 2013) Lessons in sustainability and optimizing value addresses how seafood producers are sharing ‘know how‘ to meet consumer demand sustainably.

This month, a group of U.K. crab fishermen took part in an exchange visit to Steigen, Norway, to find out how cod fishermen there have built a sustainable fishery and to ascertain if any of the measures introduced would translate to their own sector.

The crabbers, who were all from the southwest county of Devon, were shown how Steigen’s fishermen have been working with scientists to manage their stocks for the long term. As well as learning how the Norwegians go about ensuring sustainability, they saw ways in which the country’s whitefish industry adds value to its catch through meticulously grading according to fish weight, freshness and condition.

This attention to quality means the fishermen and processors can retain value at the beginning of the supply chain.

The expedition was part of a GAP2 project, which is funded by the European Commission’s FP7 Capacities program. In a nutshell, GAP2 aims to bring scientists, fishermen and policymakers closer together and part of that strategy comes through funding exchange trips between research and management organizations.

Last year, a group of Norwegian fishermen traveled to the Devon to explore fisheries management measures in place in the region as they look at ways in which they can develop Norway’s crab fishery. This time around, as well as fishing with their Norwegian hosts, the U.K. fishermen also visited a salmon farm and a fish processing plant.

GAP2 hopes the outcome will be that the crab fishers “produce a methodology” that enables them to evaluate the sustainability of the stock they exploit. In addition, the fishermen want to discover ways in which they can optimize the value of their catch without increasing the size of their landings.

Currently, the United Kingdom’s total crab landings stand at around 28,500 metric tons (MT) with a first sale value of less than GBP 38 million (EUR 44.3 million, USD 57.9 million) and the general consensus in the industry is it should be worth a lot more.

According to Alan Steer, a third-generation crab fisherman:

I think the Norwegian approach, to try and add value to the product, is the best route forward. If we can increase the value of what we sell and cap our effort so we’re not catching any more crab, it makes it much more feasible to move forward with sustainability measures.”

As well as through the handling of the product, Steer believes value can be added by increasing the knowledge and understanding of Devon crab in the U.K. market, and he cited the much greater awareness that Norwegians have about their domestic fisheries products.

“Everyone (in Norway) eats fish, everyone knows how to handle it and they are willing to pay [well] for the cod that they produce. I think that’s something we need to look at — educating the public to let them know what we do and what our product is. Hopefully then we will increase the profitability of the product.” 

Steer is currently working with scientists to better understand crab migration patterns, and while he acknowledged that such co-operations have proved “challenging and frustrating” for many fishermen in the past, he believes they are crucial in making sure catching sectors are on the right track.

“The biggest challenges that I see in our future are proving the sustainability of our fishery and also increasing the value of the product. I want a future for my children and other generations. What we are doing in the shellfish sector is very sustainable and hopefully through working with the scientists we can prove what we have said for many years. This is our challenge — to try and prove our statistics and our figures for the future.”

Professor Paul Hart, a fisheries scientist for 40 years and part of the GAP2 program, believes one of the biggest gains that the Devon fishermen took out of the trip was a broader perspective of the problems relating to fisheries in general. According to Hart:

“In their everyday lives, they are very focused on one species taken from one small area. The Norwegian experience broadened their perspective and will make it easier for them to appreciate the issues and to realize that the problems are global. 

It gives them ideas as to how they might change their own fishery. Although there are big differences between the cod fishery and the crab fishery, there are still a lot of things that go on [in Norway] that they might think about in the future. They can see that through the cod fishery, good management gets results.” 

What’s my point?

I am becoming increasingly confident about the provenance of the wild seafood that I eat!

The news is getting better and better!

Is a stock overfished if it is depleted by [recruitment] overfishing?

fao logo

The other day I was reading through the Rainer Froese and Alexander Proelß rebuttal (Is a stock overfished if it is depleted by overfishing? A response to the rebuttal of Agnew et al. to Froese and Proelss “Evaluation and legal assessment of certified seafood”) and found myself a little bewildered.

Teh purpose of the above rebuttal was to rebut the D. Agnew et al. article (Rebuttal to Froese and Proelss “Evaluation and legal assessment of certified seafood” published in Marine Policy (March 2013)) which stated that Froese & Proelß applied definitions of ‘overfishing’ that were inconsistent with internationally accepted definitions. The Agnew article was itself a rebuttal to an earlier article by Rainer Froese and Alexander Proelß (Evaluation and legal assessment of certified seafood)) that was also in Marine Policy (November 2012).

Yes I know…   :S

Anyway… Froese & Proelß’s rebuttal is essentially defending its definition of ‘overfished’ and its interpretation of ‘overfishing‘ vis-a-vis ‘recruitment overfishing‘. They wrote:

 “[w]hen stocks are below BMSY but above their respective limit reference points, they are considered to need ‘rebuilding’ and are regarded by MSC as ‘depleted’ (not ‘overfished’)”.

They then referred to an online dictionary and provided the following definition for depleted:

“weakened severely by removal of something essential”

So far so good.

However things begin to get murky when they start employing FAO definitions [which for other commentator would be a good place to start, but it seems not for Froese & Proelß]. They refer to the FAO Review of the state of world marine fishery resources where they illustrate that the Review:

“defines ‘depleted’ as “[c]atches are well below historical levels, irrespective of the amount of fishing effort exerted” and ranks it as a stock status between overexploited and collapsed. Thus, it seems that, according to this FAO definition, ‘depleted’ refers to stock sizes below the biomass limit reference point.”

Ummmm. No! The Review does not do that at all!

The FAO Review provides the following definitions (quoted):

  • Underexploited Undeveloped or new fishery. Believed to have a significant potential for expansion in total production;
  • Moderately exploited Exploited with a low level of fishing effort. Believed to have some limited potential for expansion in total production;
  • Fully exploited The fishery is operating at or close to an optimal yield level, with no expected room for further expansion;
  • Overexploited The fishery is being exploited at above a level which is believed to be sustainable in the long term, with no potential room for further expansion and a higher risk of stock depletion/collapse;
  • Depleted Catches are well below historical levels, irrespective of the amount of fishing effort exerted;
  • Recovering Catches are again increasing after having been depleted

First. I question the reference to “ranking”. The terms are merely listed in order of intensity of exploitation. From under-exploited to over-exploitation and then depleted and then to recovering.

Second. The FAO has not “[ranked depleted] as a stock status between overexploited and collapsed“. In fact the FAO did not provide a definition of ‘collapsed‘ at all after the definition of ‘depleted‘; instead they provided a definition of ‘recovering‘. Furthermore this definition of recovering expressly refers to a state of increase following depletion (so it is not a stock status between overexploited and collapsed at all)

It would seem with respect to FAO Review, Froese and friend are recounting fairy tales.

In pursuit of further point buttressing, Froese & Proelß  jump to the Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries, (which state on page 8) that:

“The management system should specify limits or directions in key performance indicators, consistent with avoiding recruitment overfishing…”

They conclude that this suggests that:

“FAO considers stock sizes below the biomass limit reference point as “recruitment overfished”, i.e., the same definition as used by Froese and Proelss”.

Ummmm. No! The Guidelines don’t do this all!

I have said here [on this blog] on a number of occasions that context is everything. Well This is lost on Froese & Proelß. It seems that Froese & Proelß found a reference to recruitment overfishing” in the FAO Guidelines for Ecolabelling and simply cut it and pasted it for use as a supporting premise to their already dubious definitional defence. 

Who are these Guys? And what are they doing? I really am bewildered… They are publishing in Marine Policy!

The reference to page 8 of the FAO Guidelines for Ecolabelling is from the section entitled “MINIMUM SUBSTANTIVE REQUIREMENTS AND CRITERIA FOR ECOLABELS“. This section states somewhat expressly:

The following sets forth the minimum substantive requirements and criteria for assessing whether a fishery can be certified and an ecolabel awarded to a fishery. Ecolabelling schemes may apply additional or more stringent requirements and criteria related to sustainable use of the resources.

The Guidelines for Ecolabelling go on: 

The requirements and criteria presented below are to be based on and interpreted in accordance with the current suite of agreed international instruments addressing fisheries in particular the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries…

Is it just me, or is this document deferring interpretations to other more authoritativeness documents?

If I am correct, and that the Guidelines are in fact deferring to other documents of better normative standing; then it would follow that the use of the Guidelines in a normative context for the purposes of deciphering interpretation, would result in any of the interpretative conclusions remaining subject to the interpretations provided in the documents to which the Guidelines for Ecolabelling showed deference .


Back to Froese & Proelß and their assertions! In particular the suggestion that the ‘requirement for eco-labelling systems to “specify limits or directions in key performance indicators, consistent with avoiding recruitment overfishing when assessing management systems“, somehow means that the “FAO considers stock sizes below the biomass limit reference point as “recruitment overfished”.

The reference that Froese & Proelß used to defend their position is eco-labelling criterion 29.2bis which wants “the determination of suitable conservation and management measures“; in particular measures in place that guard againstrecruitment overfishing” and/orother impacts that are likely to be irreversible or very slowly reversible, and specify the actions to be taken if the limits are approached or the desired directions are not achieved” 

[Sounds very much like tha MSC Certification P1 component doesn’t it? In particular PIs 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.3]


So what is my point?

My point is this… I am unable to see how my friends Froese & Proelß arrived at their point (the “FAO considers stock sizes below the biomass limit reference point as “recruitment overfished”), so I am not sure that others will either. At least I hope they don’t.

Froese & Proelß claimed in their first article (Marine Policy. Nov. 2012) that 31% of MSC stocks do not deserve their eco-labels because they are overfished. Well, as we have seen above, Froese & Proelß are not too handy at pinning down definitions, so I am not sure that I can take their MSC assertions at face value.

What did drive their conclusions I hear you ask? I can really only speculate, and assume that they took a formulaic approach, applying the following formula: 

1+1 = 71APFVOC

Can Fish Eco-Labeling be Trusted? An MSC Label Can!! Right?


I love sashimi. I do! The fresher the fish (and the drier the sake) the better. But for me, on the occasions that I do eat tuna sashimi I want to know that the tuna is from a sustainable source. I want to feel at ease with my purchase. I want to enjoy my maguro guilt free. And I have to say for the most part I am confident that when I eat a product that is certified sustainable by a recognised eco-label (like MSC), it is exactly what it says it is.

In my mind the MSC standard is robust, difficult to meet and its very existence is having a beneficial effect on both fish stocks and the environmental effects of fishing those stocks.

It should be this easy shouldn’t it?

The Scientist

I was reading an article in the Scientist which just made me fume. The article (for last year); Can Fish Eco-Labeling be Trusted, made the ‘we’ve heard it so often’ claim that these “programs that provide sustainable certification for fisheries may be too generous with their accreditation.”

One could respond glibly:

Some might! Some of the smaller certification companies, who in an effort to gain market penetration, might let there standards slip here and there… But the main ones including MSC and to a lesser extent FOS (Friends of the Sea)… They’re certainly not generous with their ‘accreditation’.

Unfortunately others do not see it this way…

This article in the Scientist canvasses an analysis (Evaluation and legal assessment of certified food) by fisheries Biologists Rainer Froese and Alexander Proelß, published in Marine Policy that essentially a criticises the two major fisheries certification programs:

  • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the 
  • Friend of the Sea (FOS), for certifying stocks of fish that may not be sustainable.

The two fisheries biologist authors “assessed” 71 MSC-certified stocks 76 FOS-certified stocks of mackerel, swordfish, tuna, and other species to ascertain whether these products that are certified sustainable actually came from sustainable stocks. Surprise! Surprise! Both  authors arrived at the eventual conclusion that 31% of the MSC stocks and 19% of FOS stocks were “not worthy of the label“. 

What utter drivvle!

In a statement to Nature magazine, Froese provided an indication of the their intent (ooops) I mean scientific rigour:

We’re putting [the certification programs] under a lot of pressure and we hope that will work. I want to improve them, not to kill them.”

The same story in Nature quoted Canadian marine biologist Jennifer Jacquet who inadverently and unintentionally in my opinion provided a hint as to the length detractors of the certification schemes will go to attempt to undermine the public perception of what constitutes “certified sustainable”.

[The analysis by Froese and Proelß] represents not only growing concern among scientists about the effectiveness of seafood eco-labeling in general and the MSC label specifically, but an increasing willingness for scientists to take on rigorous research in response to that skepticism—research that the MSC should probably be doing itself […] The results were pretty depressing, even for someone who was already dubious of the MSC.

MSC Banner

My concerns with the robusticity of the Froese and Proelß Fishstock sustainability assessments

I have a number of concerns with respect to Froese and Proelß’s 148 sustainability assessments. I am not convinced about the rigour used, nor do I have any confidence in the interpretations and definitions used.

  • Data: Time and time again I have seen fisheries biologists, manipulate data to arrive at conclusions that suit their positions (objectively done of course).  For example an estimate for stock abundance might be taken from a series of data runs. All of the runs that show anomolies (usually ones that show higher abundance indices in relation to other runs) are excluded or marginalised. What is left (the more conservative sets of data – an estimate as well) is then tabled. This estimate replete with confidence levels, and often as is the case under the guise of the ‘precautionary principle’, (don’t get me started about scientists applying this principle to their work – when I am of the mind that robust science should be the basis by which  the precautionary principle is subsequently applied) the lower bound is provided with more weight. The result… Quelle Surpise! A fishery with an abundance index that appears to be overfished or very close to it.
  • Definitions: Scientists are often apt to move the definitional or interpretational goal posts to better align with commercial opportunities (Oh yes… Science is a business too) or results. One example of this can be seen in the definition of a ‘seamount’. In recent years a number of marine ecologists have introduced (and almost succeeded) through international publication an extended definition of a Seamount [which is a geologic entity which from its base has an elevation of over 1,000m] to include all underwater hills over 100m [unbelievable]. Such a definition is great for marine ecologists who due to the meaning of what constitutes a seamount, suddenly have a few million more alleged ‘enclaves of endemism’ to research. But the rub here is what such a definitional change would mean to Governments, who would find themselves subject to the same rules for a mud hill that is little more than 100m in elevation as they are for large undersea mountains. Craziness!. Consequently I have no confidence in Froese and Proelss’s application of ‘overfished’, nor do I have any confidence in what they therefore define as ‘sustainable’.
  • Context: Scientists rarely use context in their fisheries science conclusions. This is why scientists don’t manage fisheries, and why managers do. Context means everything. For example, one study might conclude that a estimate of the abundance of the fish stock is now only X% of the historic unfished biomass, and is just as likely to be at or below the limit where the fishery provides a maximum sustainable yield. Therefore it is overfished. However in actual fact there are three different kinds of overfishing and each has a very different outlook, and requires a completely different management approach.

There are three main types of overfishing:

  • Ecosystem overfishing -This is the overfishing that everybody has in there mind when they read that a stock is over fished. And this is only one type of overfishing – and arguably it is the least common form of over fishing. Ecosystem overfishing occurs when the balance of the ecosystem is altered by overfishing, and where it is alleged that the ecosystems ability to produce those fish is impeded as a result of fishing. Furthermore declines in the abundance of the target species (often large predatory species), result in trophic cascades of  small foraging type species (that may or may not be commercially viable).
  • Growth overfishing – This kind of overfishing occurs when fish are harvested at an average size that is smaller than the size that would produce the maximum yield per recruit. This makes the total yield less than it would be if the fish were allowed to grow to an appropriate size. It can be countered by reducing fishing mortality to lower levels to allow the average size of harvestable fish to grow to a size that will allow maximum yield per fish.
  • Recruitment overfishing – This kind of overfishing is common, and it comes about because fishstock sizes naturally fluctuate. Recruitment overfishing is manageable with the imposition of catch limits such was the case with New Zealand hoki in 2007). Recruitment overfishing occurs when the mature adult (spawning) population declines due to a lack of new fish entering (recruiting into) the fishery. Consequently, the a lack of new fish (mature adults) affects the reproductive capacity of the stock to replenish itself. Increasing the spawning stock biomass to a target level is the approach taken by managers to restore a recruitment overfished population to sustainable levels. This is what happened in the case of New Zealand hoki., where understanding the context of the overfishing problem, resulted in the complete rebuild of the ‘overfished stock’ to a management range that was significantly above the MSY within 4 years.

You know what?… I think I am going to do a blog post on the New Zealand hoki story as I see it (Management actions, Media punctuations, eNGO iterations, MSC objections and all). Please watch this space.

Attacks on the efficacy of ‘certified sustainable’ labelling and responses to those attacks by FOS and MSC

This is not the first time someone has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the sustainable labels on seafood. Undermining the efficacy of the ability of a certification scheme to denote a fishery as sustainable has now become a sustained campaign with some big name suppoters like Daniel Pauly.

MSC is coping a lot. As would be expected since they are the tall poppy. The market leader. Almost daily somewhere in the media, some eNGO or conservation scientist/advocate is arguing the that industry is buying ‘sustainble’ certificates, or that determinations are wrong (and that that particular eNGO or Scientist happens to have information that demonstrates that the fishery is in dire straits). Unfortunately this anti-sustainable rhetoric is a common aspect of the international fisheries market; but fortunately customers are tuned to it.

FOS responded to the Froese and Proelß article by saying that the discrepancy was mostly due to the fact that their organization relied on 5-year old data, rather than the newer analyses Froese’s group had done.

MSC, on the other hand disputed the investigators’ methodology completely. David Agnew  (Standards Director at MSC, and previous Fisheries Director at the marine and fisheries consultancy MRAG Ltd ) along with others including Amanda SternPirlot and Keith Sainsbury published a response in Marine Policy (March 2013. 38, pg. 551-553) Rebuttal to Froese and Proelss “Evaluation and legal assessment of certified seafood”. The paper asserts that:

Their [Froese and Proelß’s] results are derived using a definition of ‘overfished’ that is not consistent with internationally accepted definitions and interpretations. In addition, the authors used unrealistic estimates of biomass that produce Maximum Sustainable Yields (BMSY) obtained through methods that are inconsistent with the approach used by the management agencies and scientific advisory bodies responsible for the stocks in question.

Furthermore the article noted that it “seeks to correct” a number of “serious flaws in their analysis, data and resulting conclusions.” Agnew et al. instil confidence in the objectivity and robusticity of the MSC process:

Using data for 45 stocks exploited by MSC certified fisheries (>60% of total fisheries in the programme and >80% of total certified catch), internationally accepted methods for determining MSY reference points, and internationally accepted definitions of the terms ‘overfished’ and ‘overfishing’, no stocks exploited by MSC certified fisheries can be defined as overfished (below their limit reference points).

Current (i.e., most recent year with available information) biomass (B) and exploitation rate (u, similar to fishing mortality F) for individual stocks targeted by MSC-certified fisheries (n=45). Data are scaled relative to BMSY and uMSY (the biomass and exploitation rates that produce maximum sustainable yield). Vertical and horizontal solid lines represent reference points common to all fisheries (B/BMSY=1 and u/uMSY=1). Empty circles indicate stocks being targeted by fisheries which have had their MSC-certificate suspended. Biomass for all stocks lower than BMSY is still higher than determined limit reference points (Blim, the limit reference point below which recruitment is impaired, and not shown on graph, varies between fisheries as a fraction of BMSY; the proxy 0.5 BMSY is often used as a default value in the absence of empirical estimation of Blim).

Current (i.e., most recent year with available information) biomass (B) and exploitation rate (u, similar to fishing mortality F) for individual stocks targeted by MSC-certified fisheries (n=45). Data are scaled relative to BMSY and uMSY (the biomass and exploitation rates that produce maximum sustainable yield). Vertical and horizontal solid lines represent reference points common to all fisheries (B/BMSY=1 and u/uMSY=1). Empty circles indicate stocks being targeted by fisheries which have had their MSC-certificate suspended. Biomass for all stocks lower than BMSY is still higher than determined limit reference points (Blim, the limit reference point below which recruitment is impaired, and not shown on graph, varies between fisheries as a fraction of BMSY; the proxy 0.5 BMSY is often used as a default value in the absence of empirical estimation of Blim).

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Fish at Lent? McDonald’s come to the Fête with Fishbites!


Today is Mardi Gras (Fat or Shrove Tuesday), the day when those of us who are Catholic-ally inclined, eat and eat and eat, before partaking in the austerity of Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (which is tomorrow -13th February), and lasts for just over six weeks ending on Easter Sunday.


Lent is a time of penance and abstinence. For me this year Lent means giving up the my friends wine and beer; for our pontiff it looks like it means forgoing the papacy; however for most Lent means forgoing meat, and eating fish.

I learned today that McDonald’s launched their newest fish product ‘fish Mcbites’ at a McDonald’s branch near Texas Christian University, which according to the Illinois ePeriodical Belle News:

“…May strengthen the impression that it [fishbites] is aimed at the faithful who have denied themselves the pleasure of meat.”


McDonald’s Fishbites

Apart from the callousness of launching a new fastfood product at a time of solemn observance and forbearance, the launch of a new fish product that will undoubtedly go global in due course has started conversations, many of them starting from a sourcing and sustainability perspective, and then moving on to distribution.

Where will the fish (for the McBites) come from? Who will supply it?

It seems that McDonald’s is tight lipped with the answers. However a little media ‘fossicking’ has enabled a little illumination at least…

On Jan 31 in a blog post I referenced a McDonald’s USA press release that heralded the The beginning of a beautiful friendship:

“In recognition of its ten year commitment to sustainable fishing practices, McDonald’s USA announced today it would become the first national restaurant chain to adopt the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue ecolabel on its fish packaging in restaurants nationwide.”

According to Undercurrent News the driver behind the public hand-holding of McDonald’s with MSC  is a textbook neo-liberal one.

Undercurrent newsTom Seaman (of Undercurrent News) speculates that the reason behind McDonald’s announcement that they are going to pay for use of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo, on its Filet-o-Fish sandwiches and Fish McBites is not so they can adhere to local sourcing policy at all (e.g. Alaskan Pollock) as we initially guessed was the motivation (see blog post:McDonald’s, Economic Sabotage and the Cynical MSC Certification: A Fairy Story); rather it is so McDonald’s can use Russian raw material, if the Russian fishery successfully concludes its MSC assessment.

In my blog post (McDonald’s, Economic Sabotage and the Cynical MSC Certification: A Fairy Story) I defended McDonald’s (Hawaii’s) decision to forego the use of New Zealand hoki as a result of a local sourcing policy

So what is really happening in McDonald’s USA and Hawaii with MSC certified Alaskan pollack and New Zealand hoki? Its easy… Corporate Responsibility and local commodity sourcing policy (where possible).”

I surmised that McDonald’s had simply instituted a policy of  sustainable sourcing and locally caught fish (in this case Alaskan Pollack) for their Filet-o-Fish sandwiches and Fish McBites.

The Undercurrent News article McDonald’s not ruling out return to Russian pollock (11 Feb 2013) asserts that the McDopnald’s partnership with MSC was not about corporate responsibility and sustainability at all… rather it is about bottom lines:

This has caused speculation in the pollock business that McDonald’s, far from being entirely driven by green credentials, is setting up for a return to using Russian pollock, with the Sea of Okhotsk portion of the fishery close to being MSC-certified.

In a statement sent to Undercurrent News, McDonald’s did not rule this out.

Our future use of Russian pollock depends on the outcome of the MSC certification process and future guidance from Sustainable Fisheries Partnership,” said a spokeswoman for McDonald’s.”

Tom Seaman quotes a source close to the Alaska industry who feels the move is more about…

“being able to source both Alaskan and Russian pollock under cover of the MSC logo than it is about caring about the MSC program per se…That will put pressure on the price point and drive down the cost of pollock for McDonald’s, which is the real end game here.”

“Take a look at who has been helping the Russians get through the MSC process and you will find large pollock buyers in Europe. So while the MSC will tout this as a big endorsement and McDonald’s will get credit among environmental NGOs for doing it, it is really about reducing the price paid to the Alaskan processors.”

Tom Seamon’s (secret) source feels that the possible certification of the Russian fishery devalues the MSC logo for Alaska producers, echoing comments made by John Sackton, publisher of

“My own thought on Russian MSC pollock certification is that if it happens then the value of the MSC logo for the Alaskan pollock fishery falls to zero.”

“It basically changes from being a reward for a well-managed fishery to an environmental NGO market access tax. Since all pollock will now be treated in the market as being equally well managed, which we know they are not, then the MSC brand itself is also weakened in the process because it is no better than it’s most poorly managed fishery.”


Mcdonald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would seem that at the end of the day the McDonald’s/MSC deal it is about “volume over quality”. This explains the ‘sayonara‘ to New Zealand hoki which with a yield of approximately 150kt annually, can hardly assert its mere presence, alongside Russian and Alsakan Pollack.

There are those who argue that the McDonald’s/MSC deal rather than raising the profile of MSC, actually degrades it. I think I am inclined to agree. According to Seamon’s (secret) source:

“The only incentive to stay with the MSC program for well managed fisheries will then be the threat of market denial and being replaced by less worthy fisheries simply because those fisheries are willing to pay the MSC market access tax.

I don’t know if I’d go this far. It is my firm belief that an MSC certified fishery is demonstrably more worthy of its improved market position, vis-a-vis other fisheries.

However I do note that the much of the recent criticism of MSC by eNGOs is based on a perception that fisheries are ‘buying‘ MSC certification one way or the other… Of course the are foolish and vexatious criticisms that lack substance.

Notwithstanding the integrity of the MSC brand, partnering up with McDonald’s could prove to be a decision worthy of regret in years to come. Of course I could be wrong as well…