Outcome strengthened as a result of the objection
Independent Adjudicator (IA) Michael Lodge released his final decision today in the objection filed by the At-sea Processors Association (APA) in the Russia Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery. He accepted the responses of the Conformity Assessment Body (CAB), clearing the way for the fishery to be certified to the MSC standard as a sustainable and well-managed fishery.
Consistent with MSC requirements, the CAB will have to submit its amended report to him to confirm that the changes made during the objection process are correctly reflected. Once that happens, the Public Certification Report will be published on the MSC Website, and the CAB will certify the Russia Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery. Once the certificate is issued by the CAB, products from the SOO pollock fishery will be able to be sold with the MSC claim and be eligible to carry the MSC ecolabel.
“The objection process is completely independent of the Marine Stewardship Council and underscores the impartially and scientific rigor of the MSC program,” said Dr. David Agnew, Standards Director at the MSC. “WWF and APA objected to the certification. WWF withdrew its objection earlier in the year, following changes made to the fishery’s plans for data collection. As a result of the additional work required by the Independent Adjudicator under the APA objection, the scientific basis of the determination has been improved and the client action plan further strengthened. With this final decision, the CAB and independent adjudicator have determined that the fishery passes the MSC standard. MSC recognizes the importance of the contributions made by all parties and their commitment to sustainable fisheries.”
Process strengthens outcome
In the remand on the procedural issue, after reviewing the comments of the peer reviewer and objector the CAB decided to further amend condition 2 and client action plan to require a strengthening of the monitoring and observer program. The Public Certification Report will require a written analysis within a year to demonstrate coverage, consistency and accuracy of the records of landings and, if needed, to develop a plan to address any shortcomings. Further, the written analysis is to be prepared by a working group that includes the Russia Federal Fish Agency, Russian fishery research institutes, and internationally recognized experts, among others. These increased requirements add to the changes generated as a result of the WWF objection, and will act to improve the quality of information available to the fishery in the future.
Robust, impartial scientific outcome
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has no direct role in the objections process or outcome. After reviewing the final decision, Dr. Agnew said: “The objection process provides another important check and balance in the MSC program and another layer of transparency that assures the parties directly involved, as well as global markets and consumers, that decisions about MSC certifications are arrived at impartially and based on comprehensive stakeholder input and independent, robust science that can withstand the highest level of scrutiny.”
The IA’s final decision can be read in entirety online at Russia Sea of Okhotsk documents.
Objection remand background
Consistent with MSC procedures, during the Final Report and Determination consultation period, when objections are allowed, two objections against the decision to certify the Russia Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery were received, one from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and one from the At-sea Processors Association (APA), representing the U.S. pollock fleet. Each party submitted a Notice of Objection that was subsequently accepted as valid by the MSC appointed Independent Adjudicator (IA). The objection submitted by WWF was formally withdrawn after WWF and the client (the Pollock Catchers Association, PCA) were able to reach agreement on revisions to the condition milestones in relation Conditions 2, 4 and 5. The IA, in his remand decision of 19 June 2013, directed the CAB to include these changes in the Final Certification Report.
APA filed an objection over procedural and scoring issues. In his decision, the IA remanded a procedural issue regarding whether a change in score for one scoring indicator that was made between the release of the Public Comment Draft Report (PCDR) and Final Certification Report (FCR) was a procedural breach of MSC’s Certification Requirements, making a material difference to the assessment. The scoring indicator, PI 1.2.3, regards “Information and Monitoring” and whether relevant information is collected to support the harvest strategy. The CAB had included new information in its revised assessment, which had not been available for comment by the peer reviewers or stakeholders. The IA also remanded a number of other indicators in relation to their scoring, mostly in Principle 2 (ecosystem impacts of fishing), judging that the scores given could not be justified by the record presented in the report.
To address the procedural issue, in accordance with the IA’s direction, the CAB submitted its evidence and scoring justification to peer review. This was then submitted to further review by the objector. On the scoring issues, the CAB submitted a more detailed rationale and justification for its decision, and the objector similarly commented on this further rationale.
In his final decision, in a 14 point comment on the procedural issue IA Michael Lodge said, “I am satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to conduct an appropriate peer review process as well as to deal with the remaining procedural irregularities identified in my initial decision...The objector continues to assert that the evidence on which the CAB’s decision is based ... is unreliable... However, having carefully reviewed the revised scoring rationale for PI 1.2.3 and in particular the comments of the peer reviewer, Dr Stokes, in relation to this element, I am satisfied that the CAB did treat the additional evidence of the Danish seine fishery with caution and attached appropriate weight to it. …and I see nothing in the comments by the objector to lead me to conclude that these scores could be considered arbitrary or unreasonable.” Regarding the scoring issues, in his final decision, Michael Lodge ruled/decided that all of the scoring issues were acceptable based on review of the CAB responses and the objector’s comments. The IA wrote in his final decision: “The assessment process requires the CAB to make expert judgments based on available data and information and taking into account MSC guidance on the interpretation of specific requirements. Having reviewed the proposed revised scoring rationale, which includes a detailed analysis of the way in which the CAB treated the available data, I am satisfied that the scoring cannot be described as arbitrary or unreasonable.”
Intertek Moody Marine (IMM) conducted the scientific and stakeholder-engaged assessment of the fishery and on January 22, 2013, issued a Final Report and Determination that the fishery should be MSC certified. In February, WWF and APA filed objections. In April, WWF withdrew its objection and the CAB issued a revised Final Report incorporating the agreed changes to condition milestones in relation to Conditions 2, 4 and 5. An objection hearing was held in May involving the remaining objector, APA, and the IA remanded the decision back to the CAB, based on information presented by APA and the record (FCR). The CAB undertook further work in the process, again strengthening Condition 2. On September 16, 2013, the IA issued his final decision, accepting the actions of the CAB as satisfying the requirements of the remand.
MSC Objections Process
The MSC certification program contains an objections procedure as a final optional step in an assessment to provide an orderly, structured, transparent and independent process for review of the certifier’s recommendation if a stakeholder challenges the outcome. An Independent Adjudicator looks specifically at whether any errors were made by the certifier that would materially affect the outcome in reaching a decision about certification. The objections procedure does not re-assess a fishery. The findings are determined by the Independent Adjudicator on the basis of materials submitted and in some cases as in this one, an oral hearing.