Gulf of Mexico
Atlantic Menhaden / Photo by Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Gulf of Mexico menhaden fishery recommended for sustainability certification; Atlantic hung up

Both of the US' big purse seine menhaden fisheries have been recommended for certification by the Marine Stewardship Council, though how fast harvesters and processors are able to start carrying the label remains to be seen.

Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries, on Tuesday, announced that the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico has been recommended for MSC by the independent certification body SAI Global. Stakeholders now have 15 working days to submit formal objections to an independent adjudicator.

Houston, Texas-based Omega Protein, acquired by Canada's Cooke in late 2017, and Daybrook, an Empire, Louisiana-based wholly owned subsidiary of South Africa's Oceana Group, both source menhaden from the gulf and requested MSC certification in June 2017.

In its report, SAI said menhaden-specific conservation and management measures are in place, and the menhaden biomass is well above single species threshold levels while the fishing effort is well below the threshold.

"The recommendation for MSC certification for our Gulf of Mexico operations is a testament to the hard work we've put in over many years to conduct responsible operations," said Bret Scholtes, Omega's CEO. "The fact that both of the nation's menhaden fisheries have now been recommended for MSC certification should assure customers and the public alike that our products meet the highest standards of sustainability."

Just three months ago SAI Global also gave flying colors to the menhaden fishery in the Atlantic Ocean, which is also heavily sourced by Omega. However, that certification remains hung up due to objections filed by two separate groups, one consisting of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and the American Sportfishing Association and the other including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Nature Conservancy.

If Omega, which is in mediation with the groups, is unable to reach a compromise, the matter could wind up before an ajudicator picked by MSC, spokesperson Ben Landry told Undercurrent News on Tuesday. Either way, Landry said he expected some kind of resolution within a month.

Omega and Daybrook can expect a similar number of objections to their MSC certification efforts in the gulf, as several groups, including the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC), have already let their opposition be known.

The gulf fishery currently maintains no limits on its harvest of menhaden, which is a forage fish relied upon heavily by numerous other fish and bird species, the groups say.

"Notably, the MSC label has become a well-known marker for fisheries that strive for sustainability," said Marianne Cufone, RFC's executive director, and Cynthia Sartou, GRN's executive director, in a jointly signed letter sent earlier to the accrediting organization. "To certify gulf menhaden, with its lack of transparency and information, would most certainly tarnish MSC's reputation and weaken public confidence in the label."  

Combined, the Atlantic and gulf menhaden fisheries account for nearly 800,000 metric tons of fish -- about 11% of all of the wild-caught fish in the US -- second only to the already MSC-certified Alaskan pollock fishery, responsible for 1.5 million metric tons, or 30%, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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