The public perceives a certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to mean an environmentally friendly fishery, not one characterized by the “dearth of key data”. Significant data deficiencies lead to conclude that an eco-friendly label for the fishery of Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) is scientifically indefensible. Credible life history data are missing: spawning areas, eggs, and larvae have never been found, spawning intervals are unknown, and most density-dependent aspects of ecological relationships are undetermined. Stock assessment is problematic because severe Antarctic pack ice conditions for more than 9 months a year prevent scientists from effectively using standard models, which require random tagging over time, space, and age classes. The number of fish harvested by illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries is likely substantial. Finally, ecosystem effects of removing 50% of spawning biomass of this slow-to-mature species are unlikely to be neutral. The large, adult toothfish targeted by the fishery are a key structural link in the food web of the Ross Sea, currently the most pristine marine area on Earth. Instead of a certification that lacks proper data, a moratorium should be placed on further Ross Sea fishing until the quality of science at least equals that of certified fisheries elsewhere.
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