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Despite Overfishing and Crashing Hake Population Marine Stewardship Council Awards ‘Sustainability’ Certification for Pacific Hake (Whiting) Trawl Fishery

Press Release Date

Friday, October 2, 2009
Location: Portland, OR

A University of British Columbia fisheries scientist, Dr. Steven Martell, published an independent assessment and determined that the hake fishery was undergoing overfishing in 2007 and 2008. An independent adjudicator upheld a determination that the largest West Coast groundfish fishery - Pacific hake - warrants the Marine Stewardship Council label of "sustainability" following review of a formal objection issued by Oceana and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today's decision concludes the MSC's objection process, and the U.S. and Canadian Pacific hake trawl fishery is now set to receive the MSC ecolabel. The MSC label opens this fishery to rapidly growing global markets that demand sustainably caught seafood. This label is being awarded despite scientific documentation that the Pacific hake population is at the lowest level ever observed, overfishing is occurring, and the population is likely to be overfished by next year.

"This is simply the wrong decision." said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana. The MSC ecolabeling program can help generate important conversations about the meaning of sustainability and it can help consumers make informed choices. "We have finally reached a point in our society where we are talking about what can be sustainably taken from our oceans," said Enticknap. "Unfortunately in this case, the MSC label will be applied to a collapsing fishery."

Oceana commends the MSC program for its principles of sustainability, striving for independent review of fisheries around the globe and for creating positive incentives to improve fisheries management.
"This is the right discussion to be having, but in this case, awarding the collapsing Pacific hake fishery with a ‘sustainability' ecolabel is wrong," said Enticknap. "It is inconceivable that the MSC could award a sustainable label to a fishery with an explicitly unsustainable target."

The hake fishery has been beset by problems in recent years, including:

  • Crashing hake population: The hake population is at its lowest level ever observed. The Pacific hake population has declined 89% since the mid-1980s.  This year, federal fishery managers had to reduce catch levels by 42% in response to surveys showing a severe decline of the hake stock - and no good signs of recovery. Nevertheless, managers set catch levels expected to drive the population to a level considered "overfished" during 2010.
  • Overfishing:  A University of British Columbia fisheries scientist, Dr. Steven Martell, published an independent assessment and determined that the hake fishery was undergoing overfishing in 2007 and 2008.
  • Illegal dumping of overfished rockfish and salmon: In 2007, hake boats and a shore-based processor illegally dumped overfished widow rockfish and salmon to avoid laws that require reporting of the catch of non-targeted species (bycatch) and the consequent shutdown of the fishery.  The dumping was only discovered after 6,000 pounds of dead widow rockfish washed up on beaches in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Catching too many salmon: Bycatch of endangered and depleted Chinook salmon is an ongoing problem.  Salmon continue to be hauled up in hake trawl nets by the thousands each year.  This is especially important considering the crashing population levels of salmon throughout the Pacific, and recent shutdowns of commercial salmon fishing off California and most of Oregon.

Oceana is committed to working to improve the actual sustainability of the Pacific hake fishery. Although the fishery has been awarded a "sustainability" label, Oceana believes it still needs to drastically improve its performance with respect to bycatch, habitat impacts and sustainable catch levels. Oceana hopes managers will take action next year to ensure the recovery of the Pacific hake population and ensure the fishery truly meets basic principles for ecologically sustainable management and healthy ocean ecosystems.