As an active member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), WDCS is celebrating because ASOC has successfully raised an objection to the MSC certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery. An independent adjudicator has upheld our objection and remanded the decision to the certifiers for reconsideration and rescoring. WDCS and ASOC were outspoken in contending that giving a 'green label' to the exploitation of an unsustainable fishery for the Antarctic toothfish in an area proposed as a highly protected marine reserve was 'completely inappropriate'.
The ASOC press release is below, and the full decision can be read through the links on the ASOC or Cetacean Habitat websites.
May 7, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Independent Adjudicator Orders Reconsideration of MSC Certification of
Ross Sea Toothfish Fishery: Victory for Science and the Antarctic Marine
Today the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Independent Adjudicator,
Michael Lodge, remanded the proposed MSC certification of the Ross Sea
Antarctic toothfish fishery back to the certifier, Moody Marine, for
major reconsideration. The adjudicator’s determination results from an
appeal filed by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC),
representing the great majority of its member groups.
In his ruling, the Adjudicator identified ‘serious procedural errors’ in
the approach taken by Moody Marine. For several performance indicators,
he found that the scores given by Moody Marine were not justified by
available scientific evidence. For the first time in a MSC assessment
the Adjudicator has referred the scoring indicators used for two
Principles back to the certifier for revisions and reconsideration.
In December 2009, ASOC submitted a formal objection to the
recommendation by Moody Marine, Ltd., a UK-based consulting firm, that
part of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery be given MSC Certification. ASOC
argued that the scarcity of information about the stock and a lack of
scientific rigour in the assessment make certification unjustifiable.
ASOC also argued that certification would undermine ongoing efforts to
have the Ross Sea established as a fully-protected marine reserve, and
that Moody Marine had ignored the scientific views of its own expert
peer reviewers, detailed scientific concerns raised by 39 marine
scientists from seven nations who have worked in the Ross Sea for
decades and information provided by ASOC, Greenpeace and other
non-governmental organizations. The 39 scientists said that
certification of the fishery as "sustainable" is scientifically
On December 15 the Adjudicator ruled that serious issues were raised by
ASOC and thus an appeal could proceed. ASOC filed a final brief against
the certification on March 29, 2010, with supporting documents filed by
the Center for Biological Diversity and the 39 marine scientists.
“Given the weight of the evidence, the only rational course of action
was to remand the certifier’s report,” said ASOC Executive Director
James Barnes. “This fishery should never have been allowed to undergo
full assessment in the first place - there are simply far too many
unknowns about this highly vulnerable stock, which is precisely why the
fishery is officially classified as 'exploratory' by CCAMLR - the
Antarctic body that manages fishing in the Southern Ocean. The
adjudicator has agreed with ASOC that Moody cannot justify its scores
for a number of crucial indicators.”
Among the major substantive and procedural problems with the assessment
raised by ASOC are:
• Available information on the life history of Antarctic toothfish is
very limited, and therefore the body regulating Southern Ocean fishing -
CCAMLR - classifies the fishery as ‘exploratory’ rather than ‘fully
• Among information yet to be learned about the Antarctic toothfish’s
life history is where and how often the species spawns, as neither eggs
nor larvae have ever been found.
• The age at which toothfish mature is uncertain, but at ~16 years it
is far older than that of most fish, making the species especially at
risk of overfishing, since the largest, most fertile adults are targeted
by the fishery.
• Moody Marine ignored the substantive criticisms of experienced peer
reviewers with extensive backgrounds in fisheries science and
• Moody Marine refused to provide ASOC key documents used in the
assessment, in spite of the Adjudicator approving ASOC's document
request. But the Adjudicator has no power to compel disclosure of
“This report is more than slap on the wrist for Moody Marine,” added
Barnes. "The Adjudicator disagreed with the reasoning and scoring for
several performance indicators, which had been criticized by ASOC."
MSC rules require that ASOC, a non-profit, non-commercial public
interest organization, pay 15,000 British pounds (about $23,000 US) up
front in order for the Independent Adjudicator to proceed with the case.
That fee was paid under protest. Even though ASOC has been vindicated
by the Independent Adjudicator, the MSC keeps the money.
“With oceans around the globe already stripped of their top predators,
the Ross Sea is one of the last remaining intact marine ecosystems,”
added Richard Page from Greenpeace International. ”We owe it to
ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to keep it that way.”
In 2008, an independent analysis of human impacts on the world's oceans
published in the journal Science classified the Ross Sea as the least
affected oceanic ecosystem remaining on Earth.
Halpern, Benjamin S. et al. 2008. A Global Map of Human Impact on
Marine Ecosystems. Science 319: 948 –952.