For Immediate Release: May 14, 2010

Contact: Jon Warrenchuk (907) 586-4050, Cell (907) 321-4737

OCEAN FRIENDLY? THINK AGAIN.
OCEANA QUESTIONS RATING OF ‘SUSTAINABLE’ FOR DESTRUCTIVE AND WASTEFUL BOTTOM TRAWL FISHERY

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is about to give its stamp of approval to a destructive bottom trawl fishery in Alaska, essentially declaring the waste of millions of pounds of Alaskan halibut and the destruction of seafloor habitat as “sustainable” activities. Oceana’s Pacific office believes the MSC’s certification is deeply flawed, and that this certification will have serious negative impacts on the ecosystem and other important Alaska fisheries. If approved, the MSC sustainable seafood eco-label would apply to the bottom trawl flatfish fisheries for flounder and sole in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. “Last year these flatfish draggers killed and wasted almost 8 million pounds of halibut and tens of millions of pounds of other species,” said Oceana biologist Jon Warrenchuk, “how can that waste be construed as sustainable?” In this fishery, trawl nets the width of a football field are dragged for miles across the seafloor. These bottom trawls scour swaths of important habitat areas, and kill corals, sponges, nontargeted fish and other animals. Conservationists, local communities, scientists and the public have all decried bottom trawling as unsustainable. More than a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, including 500,000 square miles of the Bering Sea and Aleutians Islands, have been closed to bottom trawlers by NOAA Fisheries since 2002. “The intentions of seafood labeling are good,” said Warrenchuk, “but the MSC eco-label on seafood is not as simple as labeling fruit “organic.” There can be destructive fishing practices hiding behind that MSC label.” The MSC has come under fire in recent years for questionable certifications of clearly distressed or destructive fisheries, particularly the Pacific whiting fishery in the Pacific Northwest. Recently an independent adjudicator ruled against the MSC certification of an Antarctic toothfish. Compounding the problems is the fact that the objection process is limited to people who have closely followed the long process from the beginning, and to those who can afford the $25,000 expense to file an objection. “The rules and cost for filing objections seem to be designed to disenfranchise as many people as possible,” Warrenchuk said. “If MSC was truly interested in supporting sustainable fisheries, they’d want to hear as many voices as possible. Instead they’ve set up a system that excludes some of the most important stakeholders.”

Oceana encourages consumers to look beyond the MSC label to ensure they’re purchases are actually supporting sustainable fishing practices. May 17th is the deadline to object to the MSC certification for the Alaskan flatfish bottom trawl fisheries. Members of the public can file their objections by email: objections@msc.org

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Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America (Washington, DC; Juneau, AK; Kotzebue, AK; Portland, OR; Monterey, CA; New York, NY), Europe (Madrid, Spain; Brussels, Belgium) and South America (Santiago, Chile). More than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana.