VANCOUVER, July 12 /CNW/ - "Good for the fish, good for fishermen and good for the future," says independent salmon troller Mike Griswold of today's decision by an independent adjudicator to uphold the determination by accredited certifier Moody Marine to certify the Fraser River sockeye fishery as sustainably managed when measured against the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) standard.
Few people know Fraser sockeye management on the water better than Griswold. An independent troller for 35 years, he's been part of the Fraser Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission's (PSC) twice weekly in-season decision-making process about run size and fishing opportunities since 1985.
"In 1995, things changed after a decade of bumper returns," Griswold says. "We don't know exactly what happened but we knew we had to change the way we fished and make do with less." Salmon fishermen up and down the coast did just that - cutting harvest rates from 80 per cent to 20-30 per cent or less, slashing actual sockeye harvests from an average of 26,000 tonnes to between 1,000 and 10,000 tonnes. The result of these efforts has at times netted an increase of more fish on the spawning grounds than at any time in the last 50 years. "We adapted our fisheries to the new and unforeseen challenges of wildly variable environmental conditions of the past 15 years," he says.
Griswold explains that the fishing industry set out to gain MSC certification in 2001. "Sockeye returns with their 4-year life cycle are always unpredictable. Sometimes low harvest rates and even closure of the fishery to put fish on the spawning grounds are necessary to protect future returns," he says. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the PSC have adopted management tools that directly respond to adverse environmental conditions. At times, closing a salmon fishery when conditions are difficult is the proper management action, he argues. "Anyone can manage a fishery when there are lots of fish - or when there are no fish," he points out, "but when times are uncertain, that's when you need clear harvest rules and full management accountability. MSC certification helps delivers that accountability."
Christina Burridge of the Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society (CPSFS), the current client for the certification, notes that MSC certification is no blank cheque. The certification requires DFO and the industry to meet 17 conditions on the Fraser over five years with an annual public surveillance audit every year and a complete re-assessment in year five. "This is tough stuff," she said, "even opponents of certification have said the conditions are excellent. MSC certification's market incentives really do improve fisheries management."
Griswold points out that scientists at last December's Think Tank on Fraser sockeye agreed that commercial fishing was not the cause of last year's unexpectedly low returns on the Fraser. "Pretty much everyone accepts that whatever went wrong happened after the smolts went to sea. The point is how DFO reacted when in-season returns looked like they would be way below expectations. They did the right thing, immediately closing commercial, recreational and many First Nations fisheries to put fish on the spawning grounds-late run escapement last year was the highest in 50 years. What happened with Fraser sockeye is the exact opposite of Atlantic cod."
Burridge adds that MSC with its clear requirements to rebuild depressed populations and set clear decision making rules will make it much easier for the right decisions to be made in the future. "It provides good guidance in uncertain times, and there's a huge incentive to meet the 17 Fraser conditions because we'll lose our best markets if we don't."
With the signs looking good in 2010 for sockeye up and down the coast, Griswold is optimistic. "If the early Stuart in-season estimates for the Fraser run carry through to the other stock groupings, we could have a return of 10-13 million sockeye and a conservative harvest of 2 or 3 million fish. With MSC we can get the best possible return on a modest harvest and still know that we are doing the best for future generations of fish and fishermen. That would be good for the fish, the fishermen and all British Columbians."
Six Reasons Why Fraser River Sockeye Should Be Certified To The Marine
Stewardship Council Standard
MSC certification is about whether a fishery is sustainably managed not whether a particular population is at a certain level. The 2009 sockeye season in BC provided clear evidence that the Fraser River sockeye fishery is managed sustainably. When in-season estimates from test fisheries showed that pre-season forecasts of strong runs on the Fraser were too high, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) closed all commercial fisheries. It made sure escapement was adequate to preserve sustainable populations. To claim as BC conservation groups have done that the BC fishery "targets endangered salmon" and call it a "harmful" fishery is simply wrong. DFO took the correct action in the cycle year of 2005 and the correct action again last year. MSC certification provides the best incentive for it to continue to do so in the future.
1. MSC Certification Will Improve Fraser River Salmon Management
Scientists agree that the recent decreased productivity of Fraser sockeye is not caused by commercial fishing. "The weight of evidence suggests that the problem of reduced productivity (in 2009) occurred after the juvenile fish began their migration to the sea," (Fraser River Sockeye Think Tank of Scientists, December 2009).
There is no overfishing, let alone "rampant" overfishing, as two conservation groups have alleged, on the Fraser.
Instead in 2009, DFO, with the support of the fishing industry, successfully protected returning sockeye in the face of unexpectedly difficult environmental conditions, ensuring that escapement on late run stocks was the highest ever on this cycle.
Salmon returns-despite all the computer models-are inherently unpredictable. MSC certification sets decision rules for harvests, requiring DFO and the industry to be accountable whether the run is large or small in order to maintain certification. MSC certification reduces the risk that Fraser sockeye stocks will be overharvested.
2. MSC Certification is a Rigorous, Transparent Process
The MSC process is a rigorous evaluation of the fishery by an independent team of experienced, internationally recognized scientists against an objective and widely-accepted standard. An independent analysis commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund in January 2010 found that the MSC process, while not perfect, scored 95.6% against the study's criteria, making it by far the best of the various seafood ecolabelling schemes, especially because it provides a public process for input from stakeholders at every stage.
The BC Salmon Marketing Council, representing most BC salmon fishermen, went over and above what MSC requires to engage all stakeholders in the process (including those who objected to the certification), inviting them to participate in the selection of the assessment team and developing peer-reviewed performance indicators, providing all documentation as well as additional opportunities for detailed critiques of the various drafts of the final report.
The result was a thorough, wide-ranging analysis of Fraser sockeye management with a detailed set of conditions that DFO must implement to keep certification in place.
3. The Action Plan and Conditions are Vital to the Improvement of the Fraser Fishery
The final MSC report has 17 conditions that DFO must meet on the Fraser over the next five years to ensure continued certification. DFO has provided an action plan signed off by the senior regional official detailing how it will do so. Progress is verified by a mandatory open and transparent, annual surveillance audit. The key stakeholders, including those who objected, described the conditions as "excellent" mechanisms for improving the fishery.
On the just certified Nass River sockeye fishery, DFO immediately put into force several management changes to decrease incidental harvest of chum salmon in order to meet one of the most important MSC certification conditions on the fishery.
The MSC process works: the market drives management and industry to make improvements with significant input from conservation groups. The Fraser River conditions are a victory for the fish.
Denying certification would take this powerful incentive away, and the fish, fishermen and all British Columbians will be the poorer for it.
4. Results of the Judicial Inquiry will be Reviewed in the Annual Surveillance Audit
The federal government's judicial inquiry into Fraser River sockeye is due to report in August 2011. The inquiry's recommendations will be taken into account in the mandatory annual MSC surveillance audits-new conditions on the fishery could be required.
In the meantime, the 600-page report on the BC sockeye fishery produced by the independent certifier during the MSC process is available to the commission undertaking the inquiry.
5. Fraser Fisheries are Managed to Avoid Stocks of Concern
The Fraser River has some 40 populations of sockeye, divided and managed according to four main stock groupings. A handful of those populations are depressed, just as some populations are in Alaska; the great majority are not. DFO carefully shapes fisheries to avoid stocks of concern.
Sockeye fisheries have changed dramatically since 1995 with commercial harvest rates plummeting from 80 per cent to 20-30 per cent, sometimes even lower.
For stocks of concern-such as Cultus Lake and Sakinaw Lake sockeye-recovery plans are underway. MSC certification with seven conditions on Cultus and Sakinaw alone requires those plans to continue.
6. BC Fishermen Deserve to Be Treated Like Alaskan Fishermen by the MSC
BC and Alaskan fishermen harvest the same species in the same geographic region using the same gear and selling the same products to the same markets. Indeed, Alaska harvests sockeye destined for British Columbia rivers which it sells as MSC certified. MSC methodology requires a consistent approach to similar assessments.
The BC assessment team noted that its assessment treats Canadian sockeye populations more rigorously than does the equivalent Alaskan MSC assessment. BC fishermen accept the stringent conditions that this imposes, including the conditions on Cultus and Sakinaw.
MSC certification is the best tool to ensure the protection of Fraser sockeye now and in the future.
SOURCE CANADIAN PACIFIC SUSTAINABILITY FISHERIES SOCIETY
For further information: For further information: Mike Griswold, independent salmon troller, 250.285.3702, firstname.lastname@example.org; Christina Burridge, Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society, 604.377.9213, email@example.com