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MSC Taps Stakeholders to Improve Sustainable Fishing, Traceability Standards

Image Credit: Marine Stewardship Council

International non-profit Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has launched its 2017 policy development round, opening up six areas of the MSC program to consultation from stakeholders to improve its existing programs and develop effective and sustainable new standards. Approximately 10 percent of wild seafood worldwide is certified by the MSC Fisheries Standard and more than 3,7000 supply chain organizations are certified to buy and sell MSC-certified seafood.

“The MSC is committed to continually evolving and updating our program so that we reference the best available scientific research, remain relevant to a global market and incorporate the most effective management practices adopted in the industry,” said Dan Hoggarth, head of Standards Governance at MSC.

“To ensure that all the changes we make to our program are effective and proportionate, we strongly encourage both current and prospective stakeholders to participate in this round of consultations. Their experience and expertise is invaluable to our considerations on all these important topics.”

The development round will cover a wide range of topics, including fishery assessment harmonization, labor practices and traceability of certified product within fisheries.

  • Labor Practices: The MSC is extending the requirements for labor practices across its program. The proposal is for a self-declaration by certificate holders and those in assessment confirming the absence of forced and child labor in their operations. In this consultation, MSC will collect stakeholder feedback on a proposed process for providing such self-declarations. The consultation period will run from 15 March to 14 May 2017.
  • In Transition to MSC Program: The ‘In Transition to MSC’ program provides both a pathway and recognition for fishers making progress towards achieving MSC certification. This is the first consultation for this new program. MSC is collecting opinions about the entry requirements for the program, the time frame that fisheries will be able to stay in the program and a credible verification system that confirms if fisheries are making progress.
  • Fishery Assessment Harmonization: Fisheries from the same region, with the same target species should achieve the same scores and be required to make the same improvements when assessed against the MSC Standard — even when they are assessed by different people. Called harmonization, this outcome is being developed as part of the MSC Simplification project. During the consultation period, MSC is collecting opinions on the best way to achieve harmonization.
  • Mass Balance Chain of Custody Standard: The organization is in the process of developing a Mass Balance Chain of Custody Standard which defines how MSC certified marine ingredients are mixed with non-certified but approved marine ingredients in ASC compliant fish feed. This standard is initially only for use by fish feed mills seeking certification against the new ASC Feed Standard and is for business-to-business use only. The MSC is looking for input on the effectiveness and auditability of the standard, as well as how the ASC Feed Standard and MSC Mass Balance Standard can work together.
  • Fisheries Traceability: As part of a greater review of its Chain of Custody Standard, MSC is seeking ideas on how traceability can be improved at the start of the certified supply chain. Proposals include improved application of Chain of Custody to at-sea activities, earlier consideration of traceability in the fishery assessment process and more support for assessment bodies in deciding the level of risk for traceability and deciding where Chain of Custody should begin.
  • Seaweed Standard: There are two separate consultations on the ASC-MSC Seaweed Program in this development round. These will be in the final two before the new Seaweed Standard is released into a pilot phase later this year. MSC is both seeking feedback on the most recent draft of the standard and the certification and accreditation requirements that will be used by certifiers when making assessments against this standard.

The consultations are open until 30 April, with the exception of the consultation on labor practices, which closes on 14 May. Detailed policy information and options to provide input are available on the MSC’s Program Improvements site. The MSC will also host a public webinar on 6 April about the improvements under consultation where stakeholders are invited to ask questions.

The 2017 policy development round presents an opportunity for the Marine Stewardship Council to do a bit of damage control and rebuild trust following the release of a leaked document in late 2016. The controversial report sees the World Wildlife Fund assert that the organization has been employing “questionable practices” that weakened rules to prevent overfishing, ultimately making it easier for unsustainable fisheries to obtain certification.


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