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VIET SEAFOOD

Supply Of MSC Certified Tuna To US Consumers Obstructed By Threats

The MSC eco-labeled skipjack tuna coming from the eight island nations of Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is set and ready to supply the global markets for sustainably harvested canned tuna. Last week’s World Tuna Day was celebrated by the PNA two week after attaining the long awaited MSC Chain of Custody certification for the catch, processing and supply of the sustainable PNA free school skipjack tuna.

Within weeks the first skipjack will be landed to end up in the cans with the MSC logo and the PNA co-brand Pacifical.

CEO Chris Lischewski of Bumble Bee, one of USA major tuna companies, has since announced that his company is now eager to source the MSC skipjack from PNA for a special new brand aimed at sustainable wild caught fish that they will introduce in the US-market.

But PNA commercial manager Maurice Brownjohn warns that the big three American tuna brands still have to deal with the issue of US based dolphin action group Earth Island Institute that threatens to ‘blacklist’ any company that supplies or trades the MSC skipjack from PNA waters.

“The announcement of Bumble Bee is a very significant and positive shift in the US market where MSC has been almost unknown”, Mr. Brownjohn commented from his office at the Marshall Islands. “Bumble Bee, along with other US brands, have for 2 decades worked closely with a self-certification scheme for a single species - dolphin safe. This scheme has been shown to have no relevance for skipjack tuna globally and perhaps no roll other than as an option for some yellowfin in the EPO; yet despite this consumers are encouraged to believe that it infers ‘sustainability’.”

Last week during the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Bumble Bee’s CEO  -who also presided for the last four years over the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF)-  announced the start of a ‘Wild Selections’ brand that would be the first to introduce seafood that is MSC-certificated and with the famous World Wildlife Fund panda logo.

The new brand with Bumble Bee’s MSC canned tuna is expected to be on the market in the second quarter of this year. The tuna will be sourced from the US West Coast and the Fiji long line albacore fisheries and skipjack tuna from the MSC certified pole and line fisheries of the Maldives. Since these sources only can deliver a small part of the supply, Mr. Lischewski expressed his hope that the purse seine fisheries of the countries of the PNA, that delivers 50% of global supply of skipjack for the canning market, would follow. “That may expand as the PNA countries open up and we’ll monitor what happens with MSC-certified fisheries”, said Mr. Lischewski. “The challenge is, will boats fish and will they meet the MSC criteria that Pacifical is asking for. The application is made by Pacifical. So you just can’t fish there and sell your own MSC-certified fish. It has to be sold through Pacifical.” Pacifical is the company PNA nations developed to handle the marketing of the MSC certified skipjack globally.

PNA-manager Maurice Brownjohn is surprised to see the positive attitude towards sourcing MSC certified skipjack. “ISSF has always shown itself very critical with the MSC certification of PNA skipjack, raising many questions and objections during the different assessments in the procedure. I am happy to see through a closer involvement of Bumble Bee and the ISSF with the MSC eco-label now, which I see as a recognition of the determination of the PNA to go this route towards sustainability” according to Mr. Brownjohn. “PNA through its trading company Pacifical is happy to talk business with Bumble Bee, but will also have to consider the retailers who have supported the Pacifical co- brand in its intention to introduce MSC certified skipjack on the global market. Retailer’s home brands which may be in direct competition with major brands such as Bumble Bee have supported us for 2 years to get where we are now. They would be upset if we suddenly drop them after all their commitment, they will have our priority for initial supply”.

On the issue of supply Mr. Brownjohn is hopeful the US Treaty fleet, many of which are indirectly associated with BB and Mr. Lischewski, will now join the MSC fishery as well. At this point they are specifically excluded from the unit of certification under MSC due to their operations. This will be a major goal for sustainability.

The PNA countries are already since last year’s approval of their MSC-certification scheme complaining that their industry is harassed for participating in the development of this sustainable fishery. According to PNA this is largely due to the fact that the Earth Island Institute (EII) , the US based NGO that is behind a well-known ‘dolphin safe’ eco-label is threatening fishers, processors and retailers to ‘blacklist’ them if they do business with the MSC certified Pacifical brand of the PNA skipjack.

“We understand Earth Island Institute is issuing alerts to consumers and directing our processors and buyers that Pacifical is not part of its ‘dolphin safe’ program and therefore cannot be traded, or be considered ‘dolphin safe’”, said PNA Chairman Sylvester Pokajam April last year. This situation is still ongoing.

PNA refuses to work with the EII dolphin safe program, since there are no dolphin mortality related with the MSC free school skipjack fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific, in addition to the lack of credibility and restrictive trading practices of EII. Skipjack tuna and dolphins do not swim together, as verified by scientists at various tuna commissions. Also the PNA does not accept that captains are allowed to certify their own catches, without credible verification at sea. The PNA MSC certified skipjack is fully verified from the net to the retail and fully supported by NGO’s like WWF, Greenpeace and PEW.

In order for the PNA to be able to deliver its MSC certified skipjack tuna to the North American market, major US brands will first need to realize that they must tear down the trade barrier that has been created by the Earth Island Institute , of which they have been members and supporters for the last 2 decades. “The MSC logo not only protects dolphins, but looks after the sustainability of all species in the ocean,” says Mr. Brownjohn. “It is now time for all the US tuna brands to show how serious they really are about ocean conservation, and fulfill the commitments that they all have made within ISSF to work towards MSC certification for all their tuna products. As part of that commitment, a difficult but necessary step for them will be to disengage themselves from an unreliable scheme that is not science-based at all. Only this way they can open the doors to deliver sustainable tuna in their cans.”
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