Community Scoop

‘Free school’ set operations gain MSC certification.

Press Release – Marine Stewardship Council

The PNA Western & Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery (PNA skipjack fishery) has had its purse seine fishing operations (see notes) targeting free schools of skipjack tuna certified as sustainable against the MSC environmental standard for sustainable …
Marine Stewardship Council press release Tuesday 9 January 2012

The PNA Western & Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery’s ‘free school’ set operations gain MSC certification.

The PNA Western & Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery (PNA skipjack fishery) has had its purse seine fishing operations (see notes) targeting free schools of skipjack tuna certified as sustainable against the MSC environmental standard for sustainable and well managed fisheries.

Since entering assessment midway through 2010, the PNA skipjack fishery has demonstrated – through a rigorous, transparent, independent assessment process conducted by Intertek Moody Marine against the MSC Standard, and with the active involvement of many stakeholders – that the skipjack tuna stocks it targets are healthy, that its free school fishing practices have minimal impact on the marine eco-system and that overall the fishery’s free school operations (see notes) are sustainably managed.

As a result of free school fishery’s certification, 30% of the skipjack caught in the PNA fishery, and 16% of the skipjack caught in the WCPFC convention area is eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel.

ABOUT THE FISHERY The PNA Parties refer to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement. The Nauru Agreement is an Oceania sub-regional agreement between 8 member countries concerned with the management of tuna fishing in their EEZs and adjacent high seas.

The certification covers the purse seine vessels licensed by the PNA, which operate across the EEZs of Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, FS Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

The certification covers fishing operations setting on free swimming schools of tuna only, responsible for a catch of 267,087mt in 2009. This catch is sold to Europe and North America where it is commonly canned and is a popular ingredient in salads and sandwiches.

The PNA manages the fishery through Binding Agreements that involve setting minimum licensing standards and require detailed reporting mechanisms, vessel inspections and vessel identification. They also require 100% observer coverage on vessels, catch retention strategies to be in place and prohibit fishing in high seas for licensed vessels. These Agreements also limit the purse seine fishing activities using a Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), which caps the total number of fishing days allowed in the fishery irrespective of the number vessels operating.


As part of the certification requirements, a number of conditions (or management actions) have been specified to assure continued improvement of the environmental performance and management of the fishery. These improvement conditions have been agreed to by the PNA, and have been integrated into their Client Action Plan. They relate to the setting and adoption of appropriate limit and target reference points, the development of more effective harvest control rules by the PNA and/or the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, implementing additional management strategies for by-catch reduction and developing additional information about the fishery’s interaction with protected species.


PNA Director, Dr Transform Aqorau says: “After many years of hard work and leading the world in conservation and fisheries management, today, the PNA fulfils its aspiration of being the world’s largest independently certified, free school purse seine tuna fishery.”

“With MSC certification of the PNA’s free school skipjack operations, our customers can be confident that the free school tuna caught in our waters meet the highest standards for well managed and sustainable fisheries. Our MSC-certified tuna will be traded and marketed under the brand name Pacifical, appealing to consumers that want to support us in our endeavours to protect our tuna, our oceans and our Pacific way of life.”


MSC Pacific Fisheries Manager, Bill Holden, congratulates the fishery on the certification of its free school skipjack tuna fishery saying: “The PNA countries have a well-deserved reputation for the progressive management of their tuna resources for the benefit of their people. They should be congratulated for undertaking, and meeting, such a scientifically rigorous assessment of the fishery’s free school skipjack fishing practices.”

“With tuna being one of the world’s most highly sought after and widely consumed seafood products, there is a growing demand for tuna fisheries around the world to achieve and demonstrate sustainability, as the PNA skipjack fishery has done.”

“Increasingly consumers, and the seafood supply chain itself, are seeking out tuna products that can be verified as coming from a sustainable source. By gaining MSC certification for its free school operations, the PNA skipjack tuna fishery has put itself in a good position to capitalise on this growing movement, and we expect demand for their certified tuna products to be high.”


Tuna purse seining is a fishing method whereby a vessel circles a school of tuna with a net and then closes the bottom to create a bag that is hauled to the side of the boat so the fish can be lifted onboard.

Free school operations – Fishing without any association with objects (natural or man-made, known as Fish Aggregating Devices or FADs), but may include a free school feeding on bait fish. Set distances from such objects being 1 nautical mile or greater.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit organisation set up to help transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. The MSC runs the only certification and ecolabelling programme for wild-capture fisheries consistent with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation Guidelines for the Eco-labelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries. These guidelines are based upon the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing and require that credible fishery certification and eco-labelling schemes include: • Objective, third-party fishery assessment utilising scientific evidence; • Transparent processes with built-in stakeholder consultation and objection procedures; • Standards based on the sustainability of target species, ecosystems and management practices.

The MSC has offices in London, Seattle, Tokyo, Sydney, The Hague, Glasgow, Berlin, Cape Town, Paris, Madrid and Stockholm.

In total, over 240 fisheries are engaged in the MSC programme with 131 certified and over 130 under full assessment. Another 40 to 50 fisheries are in confidential pre-assessment. Together, fisheries already certified or in full assessment record annual catches of close to nine million metric tonnes of seafood. This represents over 10 per cent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries. Certified fisheries currently land over five million metric tonnes of seafood annually – close to six per cent of the total harvest from wild capture fisheries. Worldwide, more than 11,500 seafood products, which can be traced back to the certified sustainable fisheries, bear the blue MSC ecolabel.

For more information on the work of the MSC, please visit

This date, 9 January 2012, is a historic one for the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and for our Pacific region. In gaining a globally recognized eco-label, that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the PNA fulfils its aspiration of being the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery.

The label will apply to all skipjack tuna with documentation proving is caught without using Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS) on free schools of tuna in the open ocean.

It has been many years of hard work of our fisheries officials, of our leaders taking difficult decisions despite immense pressure from outsiders to overfish, and of our own local industries and community organizations supporting the PNA to attain this goal. We did it even though we are small nations facing the powerful, and even though we were shut out of the global tuna industry through our place in history, in our geographic isolation and in the global economy. Now we are players in a major global industry, as I like to say when the Pacific talks tuna, the world listens.

The PNA can feel proud of its achievement of this eco-label but it is such a dynamic group that it will not stop today. In partnership with a European corporation Sustunable, the PNA has created Pacifical, a corporate enterprise that will trade and market promote and trade MSC certified and socially accredited tuna caught in PNA waters. In future, a customer in Europe will be able to see on a can of tuna the brand Pacifical, which will assure them the tuna is from our waters and that it meets the highest environmental and social standards.

In this way, the PNA’s hard work and forward thinking in taking world-first conservation and management measures, will be recognized not just by the praise of environmental organizations, media and fisheries scientists, but it can be appreciated by the average consumer. Campaigns in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand have recently made consumers of tuna much more aware of the environmental consequences of fishing and stimulated demand for industry to do things better.

The market is competing for options to give consumers and retailers sustainable tuna. With the IUCN stating five key species of tuna are overfished or vulnerable, politicians and international organizations can no longer support arguments to keep overfishing with any semblance of science or reason. And thanks to the PNA’s determination to assert its rights, the international community recognizes our custodianship of our vast 14 million square kilometre area of ocean.

Right now, about the world is listening to the PNA. And we hope we can fill their ears, their minds and their hearts with a desire to support us here to protect our tuna, our oceans and our Pacific way of life.


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