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Unsustainable hoki should lose Marine Stewardship Council accreditation
Press Release: Royal Forest And Bird Protection Society

23rd May 2004

Forest and Bird today called on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to withdraw its accreditation of the hoki fishery after news that fishing for the species needs to be cut by up to half of last year's catch to prevent the hoki fisheries' collapse.

“The MSC currently promotes the New Zealand hoki to consumers throughout the world as sustainably caught fish in spite of falling fish stocks and the annual killing of hundreds of protected seals, albatross and petrels,” said Forest and Bird’s Senior Researcher Barry Weeber.

“Three years ago Forest and Bird opposed and appealed the accreditation of the hoki fishery, because the fishery clearly was not sustainable. We thought the accreditation would destroy the credibility of MSC accreditation - and it has,” he said.

European consumers will be appalled to discover that protected seals and birds are being killed and that hoki fish stocks are on the verge of collapse,” he said.

When hoki was originally given MSC accreditation the annual allowable catch was 250,000 tonnes.

Mr Weeber said Forest and Bird warned then that this catch level was unsustainable. Continued over-fishing means that this year the catch is likely to be set at 40% of that level at 100,000 tonnes or lower.

“A 60% reduction in three years means that this is a fishery which is obviously in trouble,” Mr Weeber said. “Unfortunately the warning signs have been clear for nearly 5 years.”

The latest Ministry of Fisheries stock assessment report on the hoki fishery warns that, for two thirds of the hoki stock, the fishing is unsustainable. Stock has plummeted to about 20 percent of its unfished size. Mr Weeber said this is well below the minimum legal limit set in the Fisheries Act.

“The fishery clearly breaches principle 1 of the MSC which requires a fishery to be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of exploited populations.”

“The New Zealand fishery also kills hundreds of absolutely protected seals, petrels and albatross every year. They are caught in nets and drown. Between 1989 and 2000 an estimated 6200 fur seals were killed in the Western hoki fishery. It’s a bit like drift-net fishing,” he said.


The hoki fishery was certified by the Marine Stewardship council on 14 March 2001. Forest and Bird appealed this decision and a formal dispute panel was formed in 2002.

The panel reported at the end of 2002 and confirmed the certification.

It noted that “the panel [had] identified several aspects of the SGS assessment concerning Principle 2 which would have justified refusal of certification as at the date of the assessment.”

Principle 2 relates to the impact of any fishery on its surrounding environment. SGS was the independent MSC approved certifier of the hoki fishery.

The disputes panel also said in 2002 that “the stock was in good shape”. This over-optimistic view clearly has not been justified in the last 2 years.

The fishery now breaches Principle 1 of the MSC, which requires a fishery to be conducted in a manner that does not lead to overfishing or depletion of exploited populations.

For information on fur seals:

For information on albatross:

Images of seals caught in Hoki nets available on request. Images of seals and seabirds also available.
Contact Geoff Keey on or phone 04 385 7374 or 021-426-984.