Challenging “Sustainable” Swordfish to Protect U.S. Sea Turtles: Canadian Fishery Mocks US Environmental Standards

Date: September 29, 2011
Contacts: Marydele Donnelly, (352) 373-6441

Gainesville, FL — Today, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) and three conservation partners officially challenged the Marine Stewardship Council’s decision to award an eco-label for sustainable fishing to Canada’s Northwest Atlantic longline swordfish fishery in Nova Scotia.

STC, the Ecology Action Center, David Suzuki Foundation and Oceana oppose certification of this fishery as sustainable and well-managed because it captures five times more non-target animals each year than swordfish. As a result of the challenge, the certification will be sent to an independent adjudicator for review.

“This fishery captures 20,000 swordfish at the expense of 100,000 unintentionally-captured sharks and 1,400 sea turtles each year,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for Sea Turtle Conservancy. “This certification makes a mockery of the Council’s blue eco-label and hurts the sustainable fisheries that have actually earned it.”

The world’s longline fisheries targeting swordfish and tuna injure and kill tens of thousands of sea turtles and other non-target marine animals annually. Genetic studies reveal that the loggerhead sea turtles caught in North Atlantic longline fisheries originate in beaches from North Carolina to Florida.

In the United States longline fishermen are required to reduce accidental capture by modifying bait, hooks and fishing practices, but Canadian fishermen do not employ similar safeguards. Despite detailed input from the environmental community about requiring better protection for non-target species, the MSC chose not to address this critical issue.

Ninety percent of the swordfish caught in Canada are sold in U.S. markets and should have to meet standards comparable to U.S. standards. The prime outlet for MSC swordfish will be in niche food markets like Whole Foods.

“Right now Canadian swordfish comes with huge portions of sea turtles and shark on the side,” said Donnelly. “Eco-labeling is a valuable tool when properly used, but in recent years the Marine Stewardship Council has been increasingly criticized for failing to accurately label truly sustainable seafood. This situation needs to change, starting with the swordfish fishery.”

The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website or call (800) 678-7853