MSC Skipjack Tuna Might Hit Supermarket Shelves by October
By Food News Magazine, June 5, 2012
 
In a significant development for the tuna industry, the PNA free school skipjack tuna fisheries have been awarded MSC certification. This will add value and longevity to tuna products coming from one of the world’s most abundant tuna fisheries. However, the company, Pacifical, has become the exclusive marketing channel for all MSC-certified free school skipjack from the region, which has provoked some controversy in the industry.

The company will only sell to one or two market leaders per country, a decision which traders and buyers find questionable with regard to competition. Henk Brus, managing director of Pacifical, explained the decisions during a discussion at the INFOFISH World Tuna Trade Conference and Exhibition on 24 May. He also told FOODNEWS about the company’s strategy in an interview.

“For MSC certification to be worthwhile, the companies doing it need to be rewarded. MSC certification can cost a million dollars,” Brus explained when asked. “It is nothing to do with a monopoly or shutting people out. [It is about] creating added value to pay for the sustainability measures the industry has to make.” He commented that people from the PNA countries are keen to see the positive impact on their economies. The name “Pacifical” ensures consumers know where the fish is sourced.

For the fishery to earn the prized label, both the health of the stocks and the fishing methods involved need certification. The former is in the bag, with the latter expected within two months. The first MSC products are likely to hit shelves in October, but it could be two and a half years before the fishery is exploited to its full extent. It is expected that most of the produce will be packed in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the largest of the PNA countries and one where several canneries are due to be built in coming years.

Brus emphasized the value of strict adherence to the program: “An organization with a credible system must sanction those who don’t line up to standard, sad as this may be, to reward those who do.”
However, he was confident that there would be no teething problems in the certification of this fishery. “First of all, companies have to sign a memorandum of understanding confirming that they agree to all the terms and conditions of the program. Then, they must train the captains of all their boats so that they follow the procedures. There will also be trained observers on board the boats,” he told FOODNEWS.
The big question for many people is why Pacifical appears to be limiting the retailers it contracts with. “[The company] is starting from scratch and working retailer by retailer. We cannot provide everything to everyone. We have to build our business up in a way that makes sense – it wouldn’t do to just say, ‘Hey, everyone, we have MSC skipjack!’ and then be forced to sell non-certified produce again a few months later when the fishery couldn’t keep up with demand.”

The company appears to be selling to the top retailer in each national market. “They are the top because they care about sustainability,” Brus said, an opinion also expressed by John West in FOODNEWS’ recent Canned Foods and Tomato Products supplement.

One European trader objected, opining to FOODNEWS that any supermarket or trader wanting to sell MSC skipjack from the PNA should be able to do so given the very high demand for pole-and-line and FAD-free tuna in the EU market. This in itself raises a related, burning issue debated at the conference – are PNG tuna imports a threat to the EU domestic industry?

PNG Fishing Industry Association chairman, Pedro Castillo Celso, introduced his presentation on the matter: “My subject is, I assume, a bit controversial, especially for our friends in the EU.” He argued that while PNG is the source of 30-35% of PNA tuna, it has remained “as poor as ever” and is only now starting to invest in its fishery. PNG’s theoretical daily production capacity for tuna products is 430 tons, a figure including both canned tuna and tuna loins. Even with a number of new canneries planned, the figure would only reach 850 tons. “This does not even match the two biggest factories in Thailand. We still face many challenges in infrastructure and logistics,” he pointed out.

Moreover, much of the raw material fished in PNG waters is not landed and processed there, but rather contracted to other destinations, and there are issues with transshipment, too. Much PNG tuna does not meet the stringent EU conditions – and nor do the boats want it to, he added. The result of this is that only 4% of the EU’s tuna comes from PNG.

PNG and the EU’s respective economies are also playing an important role. The PNG kina has appreciated significantly recently because of investment in its gas and mineral resources. Meanwhile, the EU economy is depressed, with labor costs high and stocks (such as Indian Ocean yellowfin) depleted.

Will the transfer to MSC mean more PNG tuna goes to the EU? Brus commented: “There is a limited supply anyway – Thailand having a good year and exporting 10% more tuna to the EU will have a far larger impact than even a large change to PNG’s 2% market share. Not a pole of any of these new canneries has even been put in the ground yet.”

Similarly, Celso was asked if PNG would be able to remain sustainable with so much new activity moving in. He responded that this investment is not so much a matter of catching more as one of processing more on PNG itself. “[Catching will increase] a little, perhaps, but it will be monitored,” he averred. For one thing, the infrastructure to build more boats is lacking on PNG.

The financial crisis is the biggest problem for the EU, he said, and the lack of finance means they cannot invest in PNG, despite suggestions that the EU apply for fishing rights there.

Ensuring that more of the money generated by fisheries stays in the developing PNA nations has been the name of the game for many speakers. There is also resent in the industry that developed nations and large companies appear to take it upon themselves to impose standards on small coastal states, as if they were incapable of doing it themselves. Sari Tolvanen of Greenpeace stated that the issue was of growing interest to her group.

Nanette Malsol of the PNA commented incisively: “[These countries] seem to think the tuna is theirs even though it is caught in the PNA Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)... But we have the right to use our renewable resources as we see fit ... The industry must move towards viewing  small island states not as unnecessary appendages, but as valued business partners.”

The advent of MSC certification will certainly up the game of tuna from these areas, and it will be interesting to see how changes in the region catalyze changes in the market between now and the next conference.
Stay up-to-date on the development of Pacifical MSC Tuna.

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Stay up-to-date on the development of Pacifical MSC Tuna.

Subscribe to our Newsletter:
 
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