Posted on 03 July 2023
As the Viet Nam Yellowfin Tuna Handline Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) heads into its final stretch before entering the full MSC Assessment, it will do so under important changes and new developments in the environmental and social performance standards.
Some of these changes reaffirm the strategic orientation of the FIP for its on-the-ground activities in the last two years, which has been emphasizing addressing key Principle 2 (Ecosystem) performance measures via improved data collection on sharks and sea turtles, and Principle 3 (Stock management) measures through evidencing compliance with (relative new and reformative) fisheries management measures.
The New MSC Standard
Following a comprehensive review process, the latest version of the MSC Standard (version 3.0) was published in October 2022. Version 3.0 contains some significant changes intended to improve fisheries in key areas, including marine biodiversity protection, shark conservation and ocean governance.
Specifically, new requirements have been introduced for Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), including those targeting tuna, to develop effective stock-wide harvest strategies. One potential benefit of Version 3.0 relevant to the Viet Nam yellowfin tuna FIP is that it acknowledges the longer timeframes needed by RFMOs to agree on and implement changes, granting fisheries more time to develop and adopt harvest strategies. However, this change has been counterbalanced by the requirement that all RFMO fisheries must achieve a higher level of performance (SG 100) by a specified time. The new Standard also includes clearer requirements and best practices to reduce impacts on endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, and to ensure that previously impacted populations are allowed to recover. In the case of the Viet Nam yellowfin tuna FIP, the two main ETP species are sea turtles and sharks, which both have received relatively strong attention via FIP interventions. You can find out more about the new requirements and impacts on RFMO-managed tuna fisheries here.
Following consultations with MSC, certification bodies and other experts, the FIP team remains cautiously optimistic that the overall work plan is on the right path and in line with these new policies. The new policies indeed reconfirm the importance of prioritizing key interventions such as ETP data collection (currently underway through the expansion of the Crew Observer Photographic Program – “COPPA”), establishing an industry-based policy for Fins Naturally Attached, and evidencing the enforcement of new shark regulations.
Progress in Environmental and Social Performance
Meanwhile, efforts to increase overall awareness of the FIP and to encourage the Directorate of Fisheries (D-FISH)’s ownership of improvement efforts continue to bear fruit. In November 2022, Viet Nam notably hosted the annual general meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 19 (WCPFC 19). This provided WWF-Viet Nam and VinaTuna a golden opportunity to engage one-on-one and group meetings with key government and industry stakeholders to highlight the FIP outcomes. While WCPFC 19 yielded mixed outcomes, there is an overall positive sense that the WWF global network’s position on shark management and other key recommendations may be seeing the light of day.
Building from the WCPFC event, WWF-Viet Nam continues its lead role in liaising with senior managers at D-FISH in order to meet identified gaps and collect necessary evidence for the potential upcoming MSC full assessment.
The January 2023 independent FIP audit (3-year review) and corresponding revised action plan identified that while evidence of improved data collection for ETP species exists, there is a need to expand the ETP knowledge base and correspondingly improve D-FISH reporting and management (mitigation) measures. Accordingly, the FIP will continue to expand through a wide slate of activities that includes field data collection via COPPA, testing bycatch mitigation technology (Circle hooks), engaging experts to address identified MSC/WCPFC gaps in bycatch mitigation and compliance monitoring, and seeking specific inclusion of sea turtle and shark bycatch mitigation into the national tuna management plan.
On the social responsibility side, the FIP is working to meet recent measures under the FisheryProgress.org’s (FPO) Human Rights and Social Responsibility Policy, which is mandated for all FPO-listed FIPs. After completing a self-evaluation against key social and labor criteria in 2021, the FIP investigated and reported on Grievance Mechanism within the handline tuna fleet. Further steps to ensure full compliance include documentation of a FIP vessel list, and implementing identified recommendations to improve the Grievance Mechanism (e.g. through strengthened communication channels and networking). While there is a general confidence that the labor and human rights measures in the tuna handline fishery will meet prescribed standards, the FIP welcomes the opportunity to continue working with D-FISH and fishery stakeholders to openly address any social responsibility gaps or measures as required.
Changes at D-FISH
The above activities and interventions overlapped with a period when D-FISH was undergoing a major reconstruction into two distinct Departments: Department of Fisheries and Fisheries Surveillance, to improve administrative efficiency and reduce costs. The exact impacts and implications (i.e. to individual and programmatic workstreams) of this new restructure are not yet fully clear. So far, other than some delays in securing meetings, it seems mostly “business as usual” with the same main contacts inside D-FISH maintaining their roles on the agreed FIP action plan. The FIP will continue monitoring potential influence and impacts of this restructure going forward.
In upcoming 6 months, WWF-Viet Nam will continue to work with VinaTuna to build up on-the-ground impacts for the FIP, including improved data collection and ensuring full compliance with the FPO social and labor policies. This includes securing a FIP vessel list from D-FISH, who has agreed to share the information. The FIP will also carry on important joint activities with D-FISH in documenting compliance in the handline tuna fishery, and developing agreed measures to address relevant compliance gaps.