The frenzy over Discovery Channel ‘Shark Week’ sweeps North American television stations beamed to television sets around the world offers an excellent opportunity to consider the plight of sharks in Canadian waters. Here in Canada we are lucky enough to host some of the most rare and unique sharks. Every year the basking shark comes into our waters. This slow moving filter feeding shark is more akin to a whale growing up to 12 meters, the second largest shark in the world. Canada is also home to one of the world’s smallest shark – the spiny dogfish and an arctic shark, the Greenland shark. Most people are surprised to find out that 28 species of shark spend at least part of their lives in our cold waters. This surprise is often followed by fear.
31 years after Jaws hit the big screen western pop culture continues to offer up images of sharks as ‘man eaters’. Most people never have the opportunity to see sharks in their natural habitat, instead forming their feelings towards these incredibly important animals from sensational media coverage – the classic shot of a great white shark bearing its razor sharp teeth; photos of dead sharks hanging upside down, conquered as fishing trophies; a killer waiting to get us when we take to the waters.
The reality is, sharks have much more to fear from us than we have to fear from them. With millions of people flocking to beaches ever year there are still only four to five fatalities from shark bites worldwide annually. More people die from run ins with coconuts and falling pop machines. On the flip side, humans systematically fish up to 100 million sharks out of the oceans every year.
Globally, shark populations have declined by 90% since the 1960s. We have become the most efficient predator in the ocean. In just a few decades humans have managed to nearly decimate an animal that has been living in our oceans for 400 million years. Sharks mature slowly, reproducing late in life. Most give birth to live babies and only a handful a year making them extremely vulnerable to fishing pressure. As apex predators they serve a vital balancing role in ocean systems that scientists are only now beginning to understand.
There are encouraging signs that perhaps attitudes are changing and we are realizing the immediate importance of taking action to restore balance in our oceans. In recent years, countries around the world have taken bold steps to ensure sharks have a fighting chance to survive. Following the lead of Samoa, Palau, Honduras, and the Maldives, this July the Bahamas declared their entire country’s waters a sanctuary prohibiting commercial fishing of sharks. Also in 2011, Chile became the newest country to ban the practice of ‘finning’, cutting off only the fins of a shark and dumping the body, often alive, overboard. The U.S. passed the Shark Conservation Act in January, closing their loopholes on the practice of shark finning.
Where is Canada on shark conservation? While Canada has banned shark finning, loopholes in the ban remain and changes on the water for shark protection have stalled. In Atlantic Canada, the porbeagle shark has been fished down to only a quarter of its 1960s population. Since the European Union banned directed fishing for porbeagle shark last year, Canada remains one of the only nations to allow fisheries to keep and sell this endangered shark species and, in fact, blocked an Atlantic wide ban on fishing for this shark at international meetings last year. Recovery to healthy population levels for porbeagles under the Canadian plan that allows fishing will take upwards of 100 years.
Fishing for other sharks continues with no limits on how many can be caught or discarded at sea. In Canadian waters, the major threat to sharks is being caught incidentally by fisheries while they are targeting for other types of fish. Hundreds of thousands of sharks are caught every year this way and tossed back overboard, tens of thousands dead or dying. There are no penalties for this ‘bycatch’ – it is an environmental subsidy supporting the export of more lucrative commercial fish. Many of these sharks, like blue shark, are as yet only described as ‘threatened’ in our waters. Unfortunately, despite their declining populations, it seems we have to wait for something to get to ‘endangered’ to act.
Canada has ample opportunity to close the loopholes in the finning at sea ban, implement enforced limits on shark bycatch, ensure that all sport fishing for sharks is catch and release only, support fisheries independent research on sharks, and make sure that an accurate count is kept of all sharks being caught and discarded both dead and alive in Canadian fisheries.
Canada often excuses their inaction on sharks by explaining that our fisheries only represent a small part of the problem and anything we do will not make a dent in the problems facing these highly migratory species. Sound familiar? It is the same argument trotted out for our unwillingness to act on climate change mitigation. Other countries are not shirking their global responsibilities and are trying to galvanize the world to move forward on shark conservation.
Conservation takes boldness and courage – a willingness to be a leader. The president of the tiny nation of Palau has stepped forward and is trying to galvanize the world to fight to protect sharks declaring “ we bring to you the audacity of a small island nation to try to make a difference before it is too late and our oceans are mere graveyards of what once was.”
Not satisfied with our government’s actions, citizens are taking matters into their own hands pursuing protection through other avenues. Earlier this year, Brantford, Ontario, became Canada’s first city to pass a law banning the sale of shark fin products. Brantford follows the lead of bans in Hawaii, Saipan, Oregon and Washington. Toronto has entered the fray and will be voting on a ban in the fall.
Let’s hope our government follow the lead as people begin to think of sharks as wildlife integral to the health of our oceans, not a mere commodity to be exploited. To ignore the devastating decline in these predators numbers is to turn our back on our responsibility, our global heritage, and the threat to our own future prosperity that depends upon healthy ecosystems. Every second breath comes from the ocean and we are playing a dangerous game by fishing out what many refer to as the ‘oceans balancer’.
A Success for Oceans Day
Happy World Oceans Day Everyone!
Over the past months, we have sent hundreds of letters in support of shark and sea turtle protection, and it seems like we are making an impact! The comments we submitted are having an effect. The certification company has had to extend the release of the final report until the end of July and said “Given the considerable quantity and nature of comments received during the Public Comment Draft Report (PCDR) consultation phase, review is taking longer than previously anticipated.“
If the MSC doesn’t make the changes we want to see, we will keep up the pressure, ask retailers to boycott longline swordfish despite the MSC label, reach out to more experts and high profile individuals to add their voices, and work on more ways to draw attention to what is happening on the water. I will keep you up to date, but in the meantime, enjoy World Oceans Day and thank you for your help so far!
MSC product line expanding to include more dead turtles?
Oops, they did it again….
Just as I feared, the certification of the Canadian swordfish longline fleet has set a precedent and opened the door for MSC to give their eco-check mark to yet another harmful surface longline fleet. Now an American swordfish fleet off Florida has been assessed as sustainable – the public comment period has opened. This is deplorable. Another fishery killing sea turtles is going to be sold with the MSC label and they have used the assessment on the Canadian swordfish fleet as a reference to speed up the process.
It slips through the loopholes for the same reason as the Canadian fleet does – MSC does not count cumulative impacts on bycatch species like sharks and sea turtles. Each fleet is ‘only a small part of the problem’, so they are individually ‘not too bad’ – well, how many dead turtles and sharks are too many?
I have had so much support from organizations in the US in my fight – now I have the chance to help them. Please take the time to help them by sending this letter objecting to this new MSC certification on the US swordfish fleet – another fleet that is particularly harmful to loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.
MSC cannot continue to get away with this. Over 800 people and 35 expert organizations objected during the public comment period for the assessment of the Atlantic Canadian longline fishery for swordfish. The process has highlighted serious flaws in the MSC standard that have not been fixed. And yet, business as usual continues at MSC.
Certifications must be stopped until they have fixed these problems.
MSC says each fishery’s contribution to the catastrophic global decline of shark and sea turtle populations is really very small, and so there is no reason to suggest that ‘one little fishery’ on its own isn’t sustainable.
The problem, of course, is that these fisheries don’t operate alone. They each make a contribution to a serious global problem. The MSC has heard this argument, but seems to be ignoring it.
The official peer reviewer of the draft report for the Canadian fishery clearly recognizes this problem:
The Report points out that the Canadian longline fishery, which is similar in magnitude to the US fishery, contributes less than 10% of the total longline effort in the North Atlantic. However, analogous to the classic “Tragedy of the Commons,” the relatively small number of mortalities generated by the individual 50+ ICCAT nations add up to a very high overall mortality because of the millions of hooks being fished in the North Atlantic annually. The Panel’s assessment that the Canadian fishery “is neither the sole cause of loggerhead endangered status nor the primary threat” is true. However their conclusion that “it is unlikely that the direct effects of the candidate fishery are likely to create unacceptable impacts” is open to debate. The Canadian fishery is contributing to the mortality of loggerheads along with other ICCAT countries, the sum of whose impacts is “unacceptable” because collectively they apparently are causing the population to decline. This is a conundrum for the MSC. Recognizing that other pelagic longline fisheries under ICCAT’s auspices are applying for MSC certification, and that the same arguments are used for finding that the fisheries meet at least a 60 under the scoring issues of PI 2.3.1, the MSC may find itself presiding over further decline of the North Atlantic loggerhead in the name of sustainability.”
The MSC was founded to promote marine conservation by clearly distinguishing sustainable seafood from the products that people should avoid. I would love to see them get back to that mission, instead of focusing on having every product in every store labelled with their ‘blue check-mark’. Otherwise they will end up declaring that everything is sustainable, just as long as it is broken up and assessed in small enough portions.
MSC, tired of letters, tries to get off the hook
Sorry MSC, we’re not stopping yet! MSC has responded to our letters already with an email from CEO Rupert Howes (see full letter below). They’ve even set up a special email address for all our letters – how nice. Shamefully, they are trying to avoid responsibility for their very own standard saying they “do not decide whether or not to certify a fishery as sustainable”. Well, that’s surprising because they certainly spend a lot of time ensuring that products with their brand name logo get on our shelves.
Haven’t sent your letter? Click here to do it now!
Rest assured, during this official public comment period of the assessment all the letters you send are also going to Moody Marine, Ltd the certifying company auditing the fishery and must be considered in their process. I expect Moody to count them all and respond in their final report. Also, my team and other organizations are putting together our detailed submissions addressing the reports failures on threatened and protected species harmed by this fishery. I will share our submission when it is ready to go.
While Moody Marine is the auditor, this should not mean that the MSC is off the hook for how its standard is being used and Mr. Howes’ attempt to deny responsibility for the outcome of the certification worries me. Moody Marine uses the standard and the guidance provided by MSC to conduct its assessment, and MSC is the brand that promises people, on the front page of its website, that it will “promote the best environmental choice in seafood.”
It is not enough for the MSC to remain “impartial and neutral throughout the entire assessment process” if it is clear that unsustainable fisheries are being certified. The MSC has a responsibility – to the consumers that look for its brand and the conservation organizations that support its mission – to ensure that its label is only used to identify truly sustainable seafood.
Science based seafood sustainability guides around the world consistently advise people to avoid longline swordfish. It is listed on the Canada’s SeaChoice Red ‘Avoid’ list, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Red ‘Avoid’ list, and Greenpeace International Seafood Red List. These assessments are based on the best science available and, unlike MSC, not paid for by the industry client.
By failing to properly oversee how his brand and label are being used, Mr. Howes is not only betraying responsible consumers, but is directly undermining their own stated mission. If the third-party certification company uses the MSC standard and arrives at such obviously incorrect conclusions then I must conclude that there is something wrong with the MSC standard.
We need letters now more than ever. This is an open, public comment period and MSC and Moody need to hear that people think the certification and process is flawed and should not proceed. Integrity is falling through the cracks as each tries to pass responsibility to the other.
Sorry, MSC you’re not getting off the hook that easily. Keep those letters going. Send the letter link far and wide.
North West Atlantic Canada longline swordfish assessment against MSC standard – STAKEHOLDER CONSULTATION ON DRAFT REPORT CONTINUES Thank you for your emailed letter setting out your concerns in relation to the assessment of the Canadian swordfish fishery against the MSC standard currently being carried out by independent certifier, Moody Marine Limited.
As set out in our press statement of March 11th this year, the fishery has not been certified to the MSC standard and the assessment is still in progress. A draft report has been prepared and it is available for review stakeholders who are interested in this fishery may provide comments to the certifier about this fishery or the report.
The MSC welcomes stakeholder and consumer contributions and our program is specifically designed to provide several stakeholder consultation opportunities within each fishery assessment. However, it would appear that the Ecology Action Centre has provided supporters with limited information about the MSC assessment process, which I would like to clarify here. Firstly, the MSC does not conduct the assessment or decide whether or not to certify the fishery as sustainable.
All assessments against the MSC’s environmental standard for wild capture fisheries are conducted by independent, accredited certifiers who recruit a team of scientific experts with the relevant expertise and experience to review that particular fishery. In this case, the certifier is Moody Marine Limited, and the expert team – Mr Robert O’Boyle, Mr Jean-Jacques Maguire and Dr Michael Sissenwine – each have over 30 years’ experience in fisheries science and management.
The assessment team’s draft report has been peer reviewed by two scientists with similar relevant and senior level expertise. The consultation period, currently underway, gives stakeholders the opportunity to examine Moody Marine’s draft report in detail, and submit comments for review by the assessment team. In the next step of the process, after all stakeholder submissions have been considered, the assessment team will revise the draft report and make a further determination as to whether the fishery should be certified. The MSC remains impartial and neutral throughout the entire assessment process. In your letter you express particular concern about the impact of the longline swordfish fishery on non-target or bycatch species, specifically loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, and sharks, so I would like to offer an explanation of what the MSC standard requires in relation to these issues.
The assessment team is required to evaluate the impact of the fishery upon bycatch and endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, as part of their analysis of the impact of the fishery on the wider marine ecosystem. In particular, the MSC methodology requires the assessment team to determine that the fishery does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the bycatch species or species groups and does not hinder recovery of depleted bycatch species or species groups. The fishery must meet the same standard for ETP species and determine if national and/or international legal requirements are being met. If you would like to read the MSC assessment methodology.
MSC Chief Executive
Expert groups join my opposition to the Marine Stewardship Council certification!
It’s no surprise that so many conservation groups and marine experts are opposed to the Marine Stewardship Council certifying an unsustainable fishery. I’m happy to say that NINE conservation groups have already signed on to my open letter at https://friendsofhector.org/letter-to-the-minister-of-fisheries-and-oceans-more/, asking that Canadian longline swordfish not be certified.
Many of the groups I’ve spoken with have supported the Marine Stewardship Council in the past, and think that the world needs a credible sustainable seafood label. It will be terrible if the Marine Stewardship Council ends up compromising on its goal of rewarding sustainable fishing practices, just to get more and more fisheries certified.
I want to thank all of the individuals who have sent letters on my behalf at https://friendsofhector.org/letter-to-the-minister-of-fisheries-and-oceans-more/ and mention the conservation groups who have also signed on, including:
More are joining everyday, so check for the latest news on the growing number of people and organizations from around the world who are opposed to this green washing certification by the Marine Stewardship Council.
The Marine Stewardship Council is NOT being a friend!
March 25th , 2011
Thank you for visiting my website! It’s great to see that so many people really care about shark and sea turtle conservation in the Atlantic, and it’s pretty exciting to be working on my first-ever blog post.
My campaign for regulations to protect my shark and sea turtle friends from the indiscriminate hooks of Canada’s longline swordfish fishery has really taken off over the past months. I’ve been making a lot of new friends and connecting with a lot of organizations that support my marine conservation goals, and I really appreciate all of the hard work that everyone’s been doing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like everyone wants to be a friend. The Marine Stewardship Council, one of the world’s leading seafood sustainability labels, is actually considering certifying the longline swordfish fishery as ‘sustainable’! This fishery catches 100,000 sharks and 1,400 sea turtles EVERY YEAR, for only 20,000 swordfish! I know humans have to eat, but this is just wasteful and irresponsible.
I think the MSC certification will hurt me and my friends, and I also think it will hurt the sustainable seafood movement that so many people have been working to grow. Why would consumers look for a label once it stopped being meaningful? The MSC report has mandated NO changes in fishing practices to reduce bycatch in this fishery.
If you care about sharks and sea turtles, or if you care about sustainable seafood, or if you just care about using ocean resources wisely instead of wastefully, I need you to help tell the MSC that this fishery is not ‘sustainable’ and doesn’t deserve their mark of approval.
I’ve already had seven large marine conservation organizations join me in officially opposing this certification. The MSC needs to hear from people like you too though. You can send a letter to Rupert House, CEO of the MSC, telling him how labelling unsustainable fisheries will ruin his credibility and hurt his brand. Afterwards, why not upload a picture to my Friends Gallery, to help the MSC visualize how many people are friends of sharks and sea turtles, and care what eco-labels stand for?