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Cooke-backed bid for menhaden MSC certification clears NGO roadblocks

An independent adjudicator found that all but one of the objections to the bid don't hold up.

An independent adjudicator for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) on Wednesday determined that a series of NGO objections to the proposed certification of the Atlantic menhaden purse seine fishery shouldn't stand in the way of it receiving the blue check mark, but has asked certification group SAI Global to provide clarity on how "ecologically based managment measures" will be implemented in the fishery.

Cooke-owned menhaden harvester and processor Omega Protein Corp. filed for MSC certification of the fishery in 2017, and received final approval for certification on March 6 from certification group SAI Global.

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NGOs the Nature Conservancy, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Coastal Conservation Association and the American Sportsfishing Association and other groups filed a set of objections to the final report, claiming the fishery in fact failed to meet several MSC standards, including a robust "ecologically-based management strategy and harvest control rule." The groups further accused Cooke of "buying its way to public respectability" with the bid.

SAI and Omega, predictably, argued the management is both "precautionary and conservative."

The adjudicator, Eldon Greenberg, determined the majority of the NGOs' objections did not meet the threshold for overturning the certifier's decision, but cautioned that "it is not my job to sort out who is right or wrong on substance."

The fishery, which is jointly managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, is conducted off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina and in the Chesapeake Bay, both in state and federal waters.

Landings for menhaden in 2017 reached 171,512 metric tons, on a total allowable catch (TAC) of 200,000 metric tons. The 2019 TAC was set at 216,000 metric tons, of which 80 percent is allocated to the state of Virginia. Of the Virginia volume, Omega harvests roughly 75 percent.

Greenberg did side with NGOs on one point, asking for further clarification on ecosystem-based management under the ASMFC member states.

The adjudicator's decision will now be evaluated by SAI Global, who will give its response within the next two weeks.

Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries jointly filed for MSC certification for the Gulf menhaden fishery, which also received a preliminary recommendation for certifcation.

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