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The MSC Defense

April 25, 2012

Another good article out today on  It’s pretty much the MSC defense against the Froese and Proelss article I discussed yesterday.  Something that didn’t pop out to me yesterday is that the definition of ‘overfished’ used in that paper is not internationally accepted.  (This social scientist again admits that he still has much to learn!)

Here’s a good quote:

David Agnew, MSC director of standards, said: “The MSC standard is consistent with best practice and specifically excludes fisheries that are overfished. MSC certified fisheries are maintained at high levels of productivity. Froese and Proelss’ assertion that many MSC stocks are overfished is false.”

In their paper, authors Rainer Froese and Alexander Proelss use definitions for the term ‘overfished’ that are not accepted in scientific circles, by fisheries management authorities, or by international organisations such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) or the FAO.

I find this important, but again, not the key argument here.  In fact, it may well be that we should move to the definition of ‘overfished’ used by Froese and Proelss and that our current definition isn’t good enough.  Sidney Holt himself has discussed on this blog before how our MSY thinking is rather flawed.  Further, international standards tend to bow to the least common denominator.  But this isn’t the burden of the MSC, but the int’l community.

More importantly for the MSC, I think, is that the organization has a system in place to address unexpected fishery events, such as overfishing amidst precautionary management or climatic variables.  I saw this in the once case study – the Rock Lobster fishery of Western Australia – which I explored in yesterday’s post.

The article addresses this point too:

The MSC standard allows fisheries targeting stocks that have a biomass currently below a level that maximises productivity, provided two conditions are met:
1)    Stock levels are still above a point that allows sufficient spawning and reproduction to sustain the stock into the future i.e., above a safe biological level and above the accepted definition of overfished; and
2)    The fishery has an effective rebuilding plan in place, that will bring stock levels back to a higher level, corresponding to maximum productivity level.

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