Sea Turtles And Sharks Are No Match For Longlines

Two turtles hooked by longline fishermen. Photo Credit: Terry Maas/

(FISH INDUSTRY) The Marine Stewardship Council allowed two eco-certifications for the use of longlines for swordfish fishing that will effect sea turtles and sharks drastically. For every swordfish caught, two sharks are killed.  Every year 1,200 endangered sea turtles are hooked by longlines, resulting in drowning. If swordfish are caught by longlines, consumers need to know what they’re buying and that the fishing method used resulted in preventable deaths. Read on for why many are arguing why longline-caught swordfish should be labeled in the market. — Global Animal
Two turtles hooked by longline fishermen. Photo Credit: Terry Maas/

Sea Turtle Restoration Project

Two back-to-back eco-certifications of Atlantic longline fisheries for swordfish that capture and kill thousands of sharks and endangered sea turtles by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a death knell for the credibility for the industry-funded sustainable seafood eco-labeling scheme. Ocean conservation groups are now calling on seafood retailers and restaurateurs to stop offering unsustainable longline-caught swordfish. 

“The eco-labeling of longlined swordfish dupes well-intentioned seafood lovers into unknowingly consuming fish caught in ways that sacrifice sea turtles and sharks,” said Teri Shore, Program Director at “It spells the end of sustainable seafood schemes since none can be fully trusted.”

Last week the MSC dismissed an objection to the sustainable certification of the Canadian Atlantic longline fishery for swordfish filed by three major marine conservation organizations, allowing the eco-labeling to go ahead with only minor technical changes in the assessment document.

This followed in the wake of the eco-certification of the Florida longline swordfish fleet, which targets swordfish and accidentally captures sea turtles from the same populations as the Canadian fishery, without any consideration of cumulative impacts. The Florida swordfish fishery captured an estimated 147 endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads from 2005 to 2009.

At the same time, the MSC’s credibility has been undermined by several major Alaskan fisheries vacating the program in favor of self-certification, which will further undermine the credibility of eco-labeling and sustainable seafood marketing.

The MSC assessment of the Canadian longline fishery recognized that two sharks die for every swordfish caught and that the fishery captures 1,200 endangered sea turtles every year and operates without measures that protect sea turtles. Neither fact will prevent the newly-certified fishery from selling swordfish marked with MSC’s ‘blue check mark’ as of March 2012. 

Longline-caught swordfish is listed on Canada’s SeaChoice Red ‘Avoid’ list, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Red ‘Avoid’ list, and Greenpeace International’s Seafood Red List. These assessments are based on the best science available, include strict conservation criteria, and are not paid for by industry clients, unlike the Marine Stewardship Council.

Giant retailers that want to profit from rising demand for sustainable seafood are triggering the false eco-labeling of fish caught with destructive gear such as the two longline swordfish fisheries.

Even worse, the U.S. government warns women of child-bearing age (18 to 45) never to eat swordfish due to high mercury levels (as well as shark, mackerel and tilefish). No certification scheme considers mercury or other toxins in fish.

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  1. Readers should have accurate information about MSC assessments and certifications and this is sent to correct inaccuracies put forward by the Turtle Island Restoration Network in their recent posting.

    TIRN has incorrectly mixed up two separate assessments against the MSC Standard. In December 2011, the Southeast US North Atlantic swordfishery was certified to the MSC Standard as sustainable and well managed by an independent certifier. Part of that assessment reviewed data on turtle bycatch and mortality in that fishery, and the certifier examined 2005-09 data from observed trips that showed the fishery was highly unlikely to have unacceptable impacts on turtles.

    In Canada, an independent assessment of the longline swordfish fishery against the Marine Stewardship Council standard continues and, as the standard setter, the MSC remains neutral during the assessment process. An objection was filed by several stakeholder groups and an Independent Adjudicator has remanded two parts of the assessment back to the certifier based on the review of the assessment, which included stakeholder input to the Independent Adjudicator.

    During the process, along with stakeholder input and fishery data, the independent certification body also considered and incorporated into the assessment, a decade of scientific research and management action plans developed by the Canadian government to protect turtle and shark populations inside commercial fishing waters. These reports are available inside the not yet final assessment report on the MSC website and from the Canadian government.

    The MSC standard requires a certification body to scientifically assess a fishery against three core principles and 31 performance indicators including a biologically acceptable level of bycatch that will not harm a population or hinder recovery of bycatch stocks. Each of the 31 indicators must meet a minimum level of sustainable performance and each of the core principles must meet a Global Best Practice level.