MSC certification gives access to higher prices for tuna

Seven western Pacific Islands fisheries are certified as being sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), with the most recent being based in Papua New Guinea.

MSC certification is seen as one way of being able to better revenue from tuna fishing by demonstrating that tuna is caught, processed, and sold to consumers legally and in sustainable ways that protect the health of both the fishery and the marine environment. Tuna caught by an MSC-certified fishery and processor can be labelled with the blue MSC eco-label. This may lead to higher prices, where consumers are willing to pay more for food they know has been produced sustainably. MSC claims that sales of certified tuna more than doubled in the 5 years to 2020.

The first two fisheries to gain MSC certification in the WCPO were the Fijian longline fishery for albacore and yellowfin, recertified in January 2018, and the skipjack free-schooling purse-seine fishery of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), certified in June 2018.

They have been followed by a Chinese-owned longline fishery for yellowfin and bigeye in the Federated States of Micronesia. This was the first time a bigeye fishery was awarded MSC certification. The same company, Liancheng Overseas Fishery, also has MSC certification for an albacore and yellowfin fishery in the Cook Islands. A Solomon Islands pole-and-line and purse-seine fishery is also certified, and longlining managed by the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture.

The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association was awarded certification in May 2020, after about 18 months of work. The certification covers certain skipjack and yellowfin fishing by 64 fishing vessels, 32 from PNG and 32 flagged in the Philippines and operating in PNG, and six processing facilities. FFAs Trade and Industry News reported in June 2020 that this is the first fishery certified in which tuna can be caught using drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs).

Marine Stewardship Council blue-tick logo recognises sustainable fishing of wild-caught fish

To gain MSC certification, each fishery had to be independently assessed and to prove three things:

  • that it maintains healthy populations of the tuna it fishes for
  • that the marine habitat, including other species that share it, are also healthy
  • that the fishery uses effective management systems to ensure populations and habitat remain healthy.

Tuna that is MSC-certified must be processed separately to other tuna, as the source of the fish must be able to be traced every step of the way from the ocean to the sellers shelf. The eco-label can accompany the fish product through the supply chain.

The Marine Stewardship Council issues certification for sustainable fishing. Certification can lead to higher prices for tuna. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

MSC certification the gold standard”

PNAs Maurice Brownjohn, who developed the certification and chain-of-custody systems for PNAs certified fishery, said MSC certification was the gold standard” for the sustainability of fisheries.

MSC-certified skipjack and yellowfin from PNA waters now account for over 90% of all MSC-certified tuna being traded globally,” Mr Brownjohn said. PNAs MSC chain-of-custody system is now seen as the global standard for free-school-caught tuna.”

After MSC certification in December 2012, it took a year for PNA to develop and implement the rigorous chain-of-custody and traceability system before tuna could be marketed as MSC-certified.

Fishing vessels that deliver free-school-caught tuna that meets the strict sustainability guidelines get as much as $100 per ton extra, and retailers are able to sell this tuna at a premium because it is sustainably caught.

The PNA established Pacifical to market its MSC-certified tuna, and says the company is paying dividends to PNA members from its tuna, which attracts a 20% premium over tuna caught using FADs.

Unloaders working on the next shipment of tuna to the markets, Solomon Islands. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Unloaders in the Solomon Islands working on the next shipment of tuna for the markets. Photo: Francisco Blaha.