A fisher emptying a mesh full of orange roughy into a trawler. © AFMA

A fisher emptying a mesh full of orange roughy into a trawler. © AFMA

WWF: orange roughy decision a victory for common sense

06 Jan 2021

  • certification
  • marine species
  • sustainable seafood
  • tasmania
  • threatened species

A bid to have the orange roughy fishery in eastern Tasmania certified “sustainable” has been halted – for  now.


Orange roughy were massively overfished in the 80s and 90s causing the federal government to list the species as endangered under the EPBC Act.


But last year, a consultancy accredited as an independent assessor, hired by the fishery client, assessed that the fishery should be certified sustainable under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) guidelines.


The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society filed an objection.


In a just released decision, the independent adjudicator upheld one of WWF’s key objection points, stating there was “a serious irregularity” in that the assessment “did not treat orange roughy as an endangered, threatened and protected (“ETP”) species”.


In light of that finding the adjudicator has ordered the consultancy to reconsider its assessment.


“This decision is a victory for common sense,” said Dr Krista Singleton-Cambage, Head of Climate & Food Security, WWF-Australia.


“Threatened species do not belong in our supermarkets, have no place carrying the MSC label and should not be considered for certification.


“Retailers and consumers need to have confidence in what they are buying when they see MSC’s blue tick,” she said.


Orange roughy, can live for more than 130 years, and do not start to reproduce until they are about 30 years old.


Scientists say the impacts of historical overfishing on orange roughy recruitment have not yet been fully felt.


Recruitment refers to fish maturing enough to join the spawning aggregations which are targeted by trawlers.


A CSIRO stock assessment published in 2017 states: A dip in recruitment due to the severe depletion that occurred in the mid-1990s is predicted to have an impact on recovery rates from about 2025 onwards, slowing recovery until it starts to climb again in about 2051.


“Put simply, based on the best available data, this species cannot be deemed as one that can be sustainably caught at present,” Dr Singleton-Cambage said.


The group which assessed that orange roughy should be MSC certified has until the 19th of January to respond to the adjudicator’s decision.

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