An Open Letter to the MSC from Shark Guardian
Updated: May 24
CC: ASI Assurance Services International, SCS Global, LRQA, SPC, WCPFC, PNA, FFA
LONDON, May 24 2023 – The MSC website states: “Making sure there are enough fish in the sea to maintain healthy populations is a core principal of the MSC Fisheries Standard.” From a sustainability and consumer perspective, this is the core principal.
In our May 2022 report, ’Slipping Through The Net: Reported but Ignored. Infringements in the MSC Tuna Fisheries of the Western and Central Pacific, Shark Guardian exposed systemic problems in the observer system in the Western and Central Pacific fisheries. Fisheries Observers were reporting offences and their reports were not being acted on.
The MSC and Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) response was initially constructive, but unfortunately resulted in a case of ‘shooting the messenger’ rather than engaging in any meaningful investigation and reform.
A lacklustre investigation concluded that the problem wasn’t the MSC’s but Shark Guardian’s researchers. In December 2022, a full six months after we released our report, the MSC issued this statement:
“Three independent reviews which investigated the allegations made by Shark Guardian in its ‘Slipping Through The Net’ report, have concluded that the allegations presented were not based on verifiable evidence...”
The “evidence” in question is a series of observer reports that exposed shark finning, fishing boats deliberately setting their nets around schools of tuna associated with live whales or whale sharks, dumping a helicopter at sea, and other violations, which became the basis of our report. Shark Guardian was asked by the CABs to release the original reports, but we explained that we owed a duty of care to our sources to ensure their safety and security by not risking their exposure.
Since 2009, there have been more than a dozen observer deaths in the Pacific, a number of them in suspicious circumstances. Observer safety is a very real concern. To understand the problem, the MSC and fisheries CABS should not put observer safety or livelihoods at any more risk than they are already.
However, Shark Guardian did share redacted observer reports with The Guardian reporter Karen McVeigh. McVeigh’s May 2022 article states: “Official documents from independent observers who monitor fishery compliance, seen by the Guardian, said shark finning happened on board vessels in MSC-certified fisheries in 2019 and early 2020.”
Clearly this is public verification from a reputable media outlet, but yet the MSC still hides behind the accusation that material in the report was ”not based on verifiable evidence”.
The MSC’s statement questions the reputation and rigor of Shark Guardian’s researchers and the high editorial standards of The Guardian newspaper. Their dismissive reaction to our recent ‘Behind the Blue Tick’ report, which we released in March 2023, confirms that the MSC is more focused on reputational damage than the long term sustainability of our oceans.
Shark Guardian has now exposed illegal, unethical, and unsustainable behavior in MSC fisheries in two reports. The MSC whitewashed the first report in a review that didn’t attempt to find the source material, and smeared our authors.
Shark Guardian is deeply concerned that there is serious and ongoing systemic abuse of Pacific Fisheries and that the organizations charged with protecting them are refusing to act.
To this date, we fail to understand:
How can CABs assess fisheries against the MSC Standard without reviewing observer reports?
Were any efforts made to check observer reports against actioned enforcement or follow up?
What efforts were made to obtain the reports in the independent review?
Given the evidence both reports have tabled - what efforts have been made to ensure observer reports are logged and actioned?
How much evidence does the MSC require before an action is taken?
How can shoppers be sure the blue tick reflects it’s claims, when observer reports go unenforced?
The MSC website also states: “An MSC certified fishery must show it targets fish populations that are healthy and productive.”
We believe that the only effective way to show that a fish population is “healthy and productive”, is through accurate and reliable reporting. As long as the MSC and other Pacific fisheries organisations side-line, ignore or bury observer reports, claiming that a fish population is healthy and that blue ticked seafood is sustainable is greenwashing.
Shark Guardian stands by every word in both of our ’Slipping through the Net’ and ‘Behind the Blue Tick’ reports. Choosing to deny the validity of these reports, rather than working to ensure Pacific tuna fisheries are sustainable is dangerous behaviour by organisations that the world relies upon to ensure our oceans are healthy.
Shark Guardian’s doors are open and our phones are on. It is in all our interests that our oceans are healthy and sustainable and we would like to see the MSC operating as it was
originally designed by WWF and Unilever in the 1980’s, but fear this may turn out to be yet another example of the MSC merely paying lip service to stakeholders. Despite the fact that our findings have been swept under the carpet by the MSC, we remain open to developing and maintaining a constructive relationship with the MSC in the future, but based on an acceptance of the accuracy of our reports.
Download the PDF Open Letter: