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Sustainability Improvements Are Slow For Sri Lankan Tuna Fishery


Despite being listed as ‘under improvement’ as part of the SFP’s Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) for three years, the Sri Lankan tuna fishery seems to be taking some steps backwards with the stock status of bigeye tuna falling from the 2010 score of 8.8 to a current score of 8.0.

The Sri Lankan tuna fishery has been working under the FIP since 2010, and while the yellowfin stock status has increased from a score of 8.4 to 10.0, the fishery is yet to receive MSC certification that its practices are fully sustainable. Adverse effects on big-eye stocks by the yellowfin fisheries can be a major obstacle towards certification.
Sri Lanka is a major exporter of tuna to European markets. While key UK retailers like Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and Tesco, and importers New England Seafood, Le Lien and Seachill have all been working since 2010 to progress the fishery to green list status, improvements to log book keeping and refining data collection were slow off the mark, not gaining momentum until 2012.
A representative from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) said that there was not the sufficient data or analysis to comment on the level that the Sri Lankan fishery had reached in terms of its progress towards MSC certification from its launch in the program.
The fishery’s addition to the SFP FIP was spurred from Sri Lanka’s inclusion in the EU’s report on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, driving the government into action in order to avoid trade measures being implemented against it.
Friends of the Sea (FOS) was in 2011 accused of issuing Sri Lankan tuna vessels its sustainability certification that were not officially registered to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and were in fact listed on the IUU vessel list.
Major players have become involved in supporting the project as a means of widening their seafood offering and ensuring its sustainability. But with the Sri Lankan tuna fishery yet to be granted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, it raises the question as to whether this tuna can fully be regarded as complying to all sustainable practices.
Globally there are 52 fisheries that are currently tracked by the SFP as part of the FIPs, but an SFP representative explained: “Fisheries don’t stop being ‘under improvement’ just because they are MSC certified. Only a fishery that was certified and had completed all conditions would be considered to have ended the improvement process (and even then it would be possible to still find things to make better.)”
The MSC certification works by three main principles based on the avoidance of over-fishing; operating to allow for the maintenance of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends; and the fishery to be subject to effective management systems that respect local, national and international laws and standards.
The Sri Lankan tuna fishery will now have to take several FIP steps which are outlined in a work plan from March this year. The remaining 7 steps for completion have various deadlines with the latest expected to reach completion at the end of 2014. The improvement relate to the status and management of the fishery under the support of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and to the environmental impact of the fishery.