Portuguese Sardine Fishery MSC Certification Suspended

25 September 2014, at 1:00am

PORTUGAL - The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced last August the suspension of the Portuguese sardine purse seine fishery, after Intertek Fisheries Certification (IFC) withdrew the certification following the fourth surveillance audit report on the fishery.

The suspension came into force on 14 August 2014 and with the following effects:

  • Sardine harvested after 14 August may no longer be identified or sold as MSC certified and cannot carry the blue MSC sustainable fishery ecolabel.
  • Nevertheless, sardine harvested up to 14 August is elegible to bear the label, providing catches comply with the requirements of the MSC chain of custody standard for seafood traceability.

The MSC is the world's most widely-recognised sustainable seafood certification programme. Independent auditors evaluate fisheries against the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing, which has three principles that every fishery must prove it meets: sustainable fish stocks, minimising environmental impact and effective fishery management.

Why was the Portuguese sardine fishery suspended?

According to the surveillance report, the fishery no longer complies with the minimum requirements of Principle 1 of the MSC standard - sustainable fish stocks. This principle demands that the fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population.

This is the second time the fishery has failed an annual surveillance audit since it was first certified. In both cases the suspension was due to low Iberian sardine stock levels. Despite efforts made by the fishery and the Portuguese institutions in favour of sustainable management, stocks are not recovering at the rate expected.

Certification was suspended in January 2012 after the audit team found that sardine stocks were below the biomass limit level (Blim). In response to the suspension, the Sardine Commission, chaired by DGRM (the Portuguese Directorate General for Natural Resources, Security and Maritime Services) and composed of representatives from the fishery (Anopcerco), Docapesca (a government agency overseen by the Portuguese Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, the Environment and Territorial Planning), scientific agency IPMA, and ANICP (the Portuguese Association of Seafood Canning Industries), agreed on the measures to be taken to recover certification status. This includued a drastic reduction in landings and collaborating with the Spanish government in developing a joint action plan. The proposed plan has been evaluated by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), which concluded that the plan is provisionally precautionary. The January 2013 surveillance audit found that the fishery had satisfactorily met the milestones established for the suspension, sardine stocks had recovered to above Blim and the management plan was considered to be sufficiently robust. Accordingly MSC certification was re-established.

Nevertheless, the ICES 2013 and 2014 reports showed that sardine biomass levels are still relatively close to the minimum values recorded in 2012. Accordingly, and in addition to the fact that no evidence was found to show that the management plan was being effective or achieving its objectives within the given timeframes, the fourth surveillance audit, conducted in February 2014, led to the suspension of MSC certification.

What steps must be taken to recover the certificate?

The fishery has been given a term of 90 days from the date of the suspension (until 14 November 2014) to submit a Corrective Action Plan dealing with the reasons for the suspension.

If the Corrective Action Plan is submitted in due time and approved by IFC, the suspension will be maintained while the actions are implemented. Once IFC find evidence that the causes for the suspension have been tackled and resolved, the suspension may be lifted and MSC certification re-established.

If the Corrective Action Plan is not submitted in due time or not approved by IFC, MSC certification will be revoked.

Anopcerco remains committed to maintaining healthy sardine stocks and is developing a Corrective Plan to reverse reductions and to recover MSC certification.

Anopcerco Chairman Humberto Jorge explains: “The entire purse seine fishing sector is committed to finding the best solutions to implement a Corrective Action Plan that satisfies MSC requirements. This is also the will of all our partners, who are interested in assuring the sustainability of this partnership and as a result, the recovery of the MSC certificate.”

Laura Rodríguez, MSC Spain and Portugal Country Manager, added: "The Portuguese sardine fishery is an example of how the MSC programme can be an incentive for all parties involved - producers, governments, business and scientists - to work together towards sustainability. The efforts being made by the Portuguese Sardine Commission are an example of how to respond to worrying changes in stock status. Unfortunately, the biomass is not responding as we had expected, so we need to keep working together to ensure the long-term sustainability of this fishery. We hope that the many companies worldwide who buy certified sardines from this fishery continue to support them throughout this difficult process and that the certificate can be re-established as soon as possible."