Following Greenpeace’s most recent set of demands for fishing in the Barents Sea to be curtailed to protect the ‘Arctic Galapagos’ and its report on the fisheries in the Svalbard region, the Marine Stewardship Council has taken pains to clarify its position, stating that the MSC certified fisheries in the Barents Sea are some of the most well managed in the world.
‘All MSC certified fisheries must provide science-based data and evidence to independent certifiers to demonstrate that measures are in place to ensure the habitats in which they fish remain healthy,’ said Camiel Derichs, Director for Europe at the MSC. ‘MSC certified Barents Sea fisheries meet international best practice and have invested extensively in monitoring and management programs to protect sensitive habitats and prevent irreversible harm.’
The MSC stated that it sets robust standards which require certified fisheries to demonstrate, through a science-based approach, that they are minimising their impacts on the ocean floor and ensuring the health and essential functioning of marine ecosystems. These requirements are widely recognised as the most credible measure of environmental sustainability in the world.
‘MSC certified status only applies to a fishery as it is defined within the fishery’s MSC certificate. This includes a geographical area for fishing, in which the impact of fishing has been assessed by independent certifiers. Any expansion of fishing activities into new areas would require an assessment to determine that fishing by the certified fleet in the new area continues to meet the MSC’s Standard,’ states the MSC, which commented that this would require robust, scientific evidence demonstrating that fishing in this area is well-managed and not causing irreversible harm to sensitive habitats.
In areas of the Arctic previously covered by sea ice, there is likely to be limited data and research from which to determine the impact of fishing on newly exposed ocean floor organisms. In situations such as these, MSC requires that fisheries apply a precautionary approach in order to be MSC certified.
‘The MSC has no evidence that MSC certified fisheries are operating in areas outside their MSC certificate,’ stated the MSC’s spokesperson, continuing; ‘MSC certified fisheries in the Barents Sea have extensive monitoring and mapping initiatives in place including the Norwegian led MAREANO programme and PINRO-IMR collaboration, a joint Norwegian-Russian Environmental Status Report on the Barents Sea Ecosystem. These initiatives have resulted in extensive data collection on marine habitats in the Barents Sea.’
As part of their MSC certification, and at the requirement of government legislation, Barents Sea fisheries actively avoid fishing in areas with sensitive habitats. The Norwegian MSC certified cod fishery in the Barents Sea, for example, only fishes in predetermined "corridors" when catching fish near the ocean floor. In this way the seabed is less disturbed, because the fishing is limited to smaller areas.
‘Where there is room for improvement, conditions are set requiring fisheries to deliver specific projects and initiatives to better understand the impacts of fishing. For example, the Norwegian North East Arctic off-shore cod fishery has a condition to demonstrate that it is highly unlikely to reduce Pennatulacea (sea pens) habitat structure and function.’