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Trial on MSC bluefin tuna certification: profit may overrule sustainability

Rome, Italy - WWF is objecting to the potential sustainability certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) of the first Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery, following a questionable evaluation process that has repeatedly ignored the fragile status of the stock.

Rome, Italy - WWF is objecting to the potential sustainability certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) of the first Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery, following a questionable evaluation process that has repeatedly ignored the fragile status of the stock. 

At the hearing opening today (June 1) until tomorrow (June 2),  WWF will present its case on how the current certification of a bluefin tuna fishery has dismissed the best available science and therefore produced a much too positive evaluation of the fishery that does not reflect the reality at sea.  

WWF has long warned that the scientific rigor that MSC claims to apply to respect the sustainability of fish stocks is often overlooked during certification processes [1]. In the case of the eastern Atlantic bluefin, a population that went from being largely abundant to heavily overfished and that is still largely illegally fished [2], rigorous science and a precautionary approach would have been in order. 

Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director, WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative said: “After a long evaluation process that has been compromised by failures in impartiality and scientific rigour [3], it is our expectation that the hearing for the objection will ensure a transparent and impartial approach to the assessment of the Atlantic Bluefin tuna fishery that is undergoing certification. This case will demonstrate if the MSC label  puts ocean sustainability first or if science has been overruled by profit.” 

To further confirm the need for a scientifically-sound assessment, in December 2017 WWF had also commissioned a pre- assessment of bluefin tuna fisheries through another MSC accredited CAB, SAI-Global [4]. The evaluation reported that “serious issues have been identified and the pre-assessment predicted an overall fail for the MSC Standards Principle 1 [5]. The Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna stock is not at or fluctuating around a level consistent with MSY [6]”. 

WWF is currently opposing the certification of two bluefin tuna fisheries: the Usufuku Honten Northeast Atlantic longline, the French Artisanal longline and handline SATHOAN. WWF believes that independently from the size and type of the fisheries, the current conservation and management measures in place do not ensure that Atlantic bluefin tuna is sustainably caught or traded. 

“We are strongly concerned that granting the MSC certification to the first Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery will send the wrong message to consumers that trust the label with the understanding that it is a proof of sustainability. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.” concluded Di Carlo. 


Stefania Campogianni, Communications Manager, WWF Mediterranean Marine initiative, scampogianni@wwfmedpo.org, +39 346 3873237

Karen Richards, Manager, Media Relations, WWF International, krichards@wwfint.org,  +44 7775 552592, 

Notes for the editor:

[1]  In 2019 a number of certified fisheries have had their certificates suspended because new scientific advice has shown stocks to be overfished (e.g. North Sea cod fisheries and Western Baltic spring spawning herring,and the MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel fishery). While these suspensions are the appropriate response by the MSC and possibly provide incentives for improved management, it shows that the performance of certified fisheries can be questionable. See also the paper by Jennifer Jacquet, Daniel Pauly & others showing that “The main consumer-targeted certification scheme for sustainable fisheries is failing to protect the environment and needs radical reform”. 

[2] Europol estimated in 2018 that within the operation “Tarantelo” the amount of illegally traded atlantic bluefin tuna was double the legal amount. See WWF media release.

[3] In February, WWF officially denounced the lack of impartiality of the MSC evaluation process. See Media release and Guardian article . The Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) - ControlUnion Pesca - appointed to assess the bluefin fishery did not accept (or rescored) the vast majority (68 out 71) of the reviews to the MSC Principle 1 for Sustainable Fish Stocks, provided by WWF. WWF highlighted the need to use a precautionary scientific approach for the management of the bluefin tuna stock that is still under recovery. In addition all the uncertainties under the current harvest strategy were ignored by the CAB, and only  the lack of effective harvest control rules was accepted and resulted in a lower rescoring of the fishery. 

[4] In December 2017, WWF commissioned SAI Global (a CAB accredited to the MSC standards) to run 3 pre-assessments of Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fisheries to evaluate whether they were ready for certification under the MSC Standard. None of the fisheries evaluated in the reports published in June 2018 were judged to be able to receive a passing score for MSC Principle 1. See here

[5] As explained by the MSC on its website, the MSC Fisheries Standard has three core principles that every fishery must meet. Principle 1 is related to “Sustainable fish stocks:  “Are enough fish left in the ocean? Fishing must be at a level that ensures it can continue indefinitely and the fish population can remain productive and healthy.”

[6] MSY - Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is the maximum amount of fish that can be caught to be harvested sustainably.