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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

A win for the roughy

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The orange roughy. Photo Wikipedia.

The battle for the ‘roughy has been a tough road for conservationists and hopefully, this win will be the last fight.

An appeal by the fishing industry to overturn a ruling on the sustainability of fishing for a long-lived Australian fish – the orange roughy – has failed following a long battle for science and Australian environmental laws to be respected.

An independent adjudicator threw out the appeal by consultants hired by the fishing industry – MRAG Americas. It means the orange roughy cannot be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) because it is a protected species, listed as ‘Conservation Dependent’ under Australian law.

A nine-month-long battle

The ruling brings to a close a nine-month-long battle brought by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to prevent orange roughy harvested in south-east Australian waters from being awarded the MSC’s coveted blue tick.

Adrian Meder, AMCS’s sustainable seafood program manager, said he was delighted the fishing industry’s appeal had failed because a blue tick would have been disastrous for orange roughy and the deep-sea habitats in which it’s found.

‘The latest research shows orange roughy numbers have only just begun to recover in small parts of their population from historic overfishing, he said.

Numbers are likely to decline again

Mr Media said scientists have indicated that numbers are likely to decline again this decade due to lingering impacts from fishing that occurred 30 years ago. ‘Researchers have also found the fishery destroys ancient coral reefs that crest deep-sea mountains. It could take decades or even centuries for this fish and this habitat to recover to levels that could truly be called sustainable.’

Mr Meder said it was damaging to the MSC’s trust with Australians that the arbitration process was even required.

‘If the MSC had followed and enforced its own rules, we could have saved a lot of time,’ said Mr Meder. ‘These rules state that any species protected as threatened or endangered under a nation’s environment laws should not be considered a target of a fishery that carries their “blue tick”. But MSC were conspicuously silent when the fishing industry and its consultants barrelled forward with the certification process of the orange roughy fishery as sustainable.

‘They allowed them to pursue the process. They were only stopped by the hard work of AMCS and WWF at the last possible stage.

Mr Media said that at a time when Australian consumers are increasingly exposed to greenwash and sham sustainability, they need to be able to trust that when a group like the MSC tells them the fish with their blue tick is sustainable, they really mean it.

Reforming standards

‘They need to, and can, fix this by reforming their standard and lifting the bar they set to our fishing industry to ensure their blue tick actually means a high standard of environmental sustainability is required. 

‘Will they do it, though? We urge them – don’t just leave it for groups like ours to fight for the health of the ocean.’

Orange roughy are caught by deep-sea trawlers around south-eastern Australia. It is red listed in AMCS’s GoodFish Guide because of the impact of trawling on fragile ancient corals and because orange roughy is a protected species.

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  1. From my memory, the orange roughy was ‘discovered some years ago in large numbers so it was targeted by the industry – but later research showed that the roughy is long lived and slow to reproduce, so the large numbers were due to wide age band, not reproduction. The numbers have fallen off significantly, so the blue tick is not warranted.


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