First 'sustainable' shark fishery certified

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A Canadian dogfish fishery in British Columbia has become the first in the world to receive Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC) as a sustainable fishery.

The fishery was put up for assessment by the BC Dogfish Hook and Line Industry Association, an organisation that represents over 90% of the vessels fishing dogfish and all the processors involved in the industry.

The MSC granted its certificate after seeing the results of an independent scientific assessment carried out by Moody Marine Ltd. This found that catch levels for the past 20 years have remained stable at around 3000 tonnes annually, which is below the annual limit set by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and a 2009 review concluded that this level was sustainable and unlikely to cause 'harmful' stock declines.

In 2011 the DFO lowered allowable catch limits again as a further precautionary measure.

The assessment also noted that the use of bottom long line techniques meant over 90% of the catch was made up of the target species (Squalus suckleyi) and although the fishery contains some endangered, threatened and protected species only low numbers were encountered and most survived capture and re-release.

This method has minimal impact on the seabed. Catches are monitored by on-board cameras, recorded in logbooks and audits are carried out on the system independently, while further research into the scientific management of the fishery is also part of the scheme. The certificate will last five years.

However, some groups have expressed concern at the certification due to the age and reproductive processes of the species, as well as the criteria used by the MSC. The dogfish typically take 35 years to reach sexual maturity and at around two years has one of the longest pregnancies known, so the effects of the fishery long term may as yet be unpredictable.

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