Marine Stewardship Council Certifies Cook Islands Yellowfin Fishery

Marine Stewardship Council
Rarotonga, Cook Islands

March 30, 2017

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has announced the addition of yellowfin tuna to the Cook Islands EEZ South Pacific Albacore Longline Fishery certification.

The fishery was MSC certified for its albacore tuna catches in 2015, making Huanan Fishery Cook Islands Ltd the first Chinese tuna fleet to meet what is considered the industry gold standard in sustainability.

The MSC is an international non-profit organisation established to address the problem of unsustainable fishing and safeguard seafood supplies for the future.

The extended scope of certification makes Huanan Fishery Cook Islands the largest MSC-certified longline fishing fleet in the world, with the addition of 21 longline fishing vessels to its certificate.

Huanan Fishery has 25 vessels licensed to fish in Cook Islands waters. The rigorous MSC assessment began in April 2016, examining the state of the Cook Island fishery to support sustainable catches of yellowfin tuna.

Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) secretary Ben Ponia says that the Cook Islands is on track to become the world’s largest supplier of MSC-certified sustainable longline caught tuna and is becoming a leader in demonstrating the synergy between economics and conservation.

The Cook Islands fishery is part of a leading group of more than 300 MSC certified fisheries that are helping to ensure healthy marine ecosystems for this and future generations.

The science-based programme provides a powerful instrument for transforming the global tuna fisheries market to a sustainable basis, and improving the way tuna fisheries are managed and governed.

Consumers can trust that fish and seafood with the blue MSC eco-label has been responsibly caught and can be traced back to a certified sustainable fishery. These fisheries ensure that fish are caught at levels that allow fish populations and the ecosystems on which they depend to remain healthy and productive for the future.

Longline tuna fisheries trail a long line, or main line, behind a vessel. Baited hooks are attached at intervals to attract the target species. 

Catch from the Huanan Fishery Cook Islands fleet is processed on board and then quick-frozen, primarily for canning.

The catch is delivered to ports outside the Cook Islands, usually Pago Pago in American Samoa, as well as Suva in Fiji, and the Solomon Islands.

To achieve certification, a fishery must undergo scrutiny by an independent third-party team of experts who assess the fishery’s performance against the MSC’s robust and widely recognised requirements for sustainable fishing.

The MSC Fisheries Standard is designed to assess if a fishery is well-managed and sustainable.

It has been developed in consultation with scientists, the fishing industry and conservation groups and reflects the most up to date understanding of internationally accepted fisheries science and best practice management.

A significant part of the initial evaluation for the certification achieved in 2015 required assessing the Cook Islands government’s capacity to manage the albacore fishery in a sustainable manner and involved in-country visits and full disclosure of MMR policies and operational data for the longline fishery.

The fishery must continue to make improvements to meet the conditions set for it in order to remain certified.

These improvements include implementing harvest control strategies that ensure healthy stock, and also demonstrating that fish stocks are well managed.

In December 2016, the Cook Islands became the first Pacific Island nation to introduce a longline Quota Management System (QMS) to control catches of albacore and bigeye tuna.

This harvest control strategy sets annual catch limits and is globally regarded as best practice for commercial fisheries.

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