A new investigation by Shark Guardian has uncovered observer reports of wildlife abuse, including incidents with whales and dolphins, on board fishing vessels certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Shockingly, these reports seem to be routinely ignored by the MSC and their assessors.
MSC-certified vessels deliberately trapped whales and dolphins
Shark Guardian’s report, ‘Behind the MSC Blue Tick’, details more than 30 incidents where MSC-certified vessels set their nets around schools of tuna that were being fed on by whales and dolphins. This method of fishing is prohibited, since it results in trapping the cetaceans as well as the fish.
Observers revealed that most of these sets were made deliberately, in violation of conservation measures. Some whistle-blowers told researchers that the fishing crew “believe there is a higher chance of catching [tuna] if the whale is encircled” by the net.
In several cases, officers and crew also used workboats to try to scare a whale caught inside their net into breaking free, despite regulations stating that they should cease operations and open the net to release the whale safely.
How can this be ‘sustainable’ fishing?
The WCA has previously criticised the MSC for certifying fisheries that intentionally kill and harass marine mammals. Considering that such destructive methods can still be accepted by the MSC as ‘sustainable’, this latest evidence should come as no surprise.
Even so, the observer photos of false killer whale bycatch are horrifying to see. These injured whales – caught in nets, brought on board, and then discarded – should never have been trapped in the first place.
It’s clear that the MSC continues to suffer from systemic issues and its status as an ecolabel is seriously compromised. Why should consumers trust the ‘blue tick’ when it’s used to hide harmful fishing practices?
In another incident, an observer describes how three common dolphins “were caught and left inside the net” until the fish could be transferred out. When the crew later released the dolphins, all three were reported dead.
Tragedies like these can and must be prevented. By turning a blind eye to illegal and unethical practices, the MSC, their assessors, and the wider seafood industry are supporting abuse of protected wildlife on a terrible scale.
Header image: An injured false killer whale lies trapped in a net on the deck of an MSC-certified vessel. Photo by Shark Guardian.