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MSC to Enact More Rigorous Standard for Sustainable Fisheries

Image credit: Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has launched an updated version of its sustainable fishing standards, to come into effect on April 1, 2015.

Developed over the past two years, Version 2.0 of the MSC’s Fisheries Certification Requirements incorporates the latest knowledge and understanding of the science and management behind sustainable fisheries and aquatic environments. The year-long consulting stage of the project involved input from experts and stakeholders worldwide, including fishing industry scientists, NGOs and MSC’s partners.

Version 2.0 builds on its predecessor by addressing a number of key issues including bycatch mitigation, susceptible or failing marine ecosystems, and forced/unethical labor. Incorporating the MSC’s long-term goals of ensuring the seafood market develops sustainably, it will require all certified fisheries to adopt the most up-to-date management strategies and operations to prevent fish stock decline and consequences for future generations.

With the updates in effect as of April 1, Conformity Assessment Boards (CABs) now have six months to understand the new standards such that any fishery wishing to be granted MSC certification will be assessed against the updated version. Fisheries that are already MSC-certified will have to put the new standards into place by their reassessment period in October 2017.

“This is an exciting development for the MSC. It adds rigor and robustness to the program and will have a positive and lasting impact on the health of world’s oceans,” explains MSC Standards Director Dr David Agnew.

Here are the 10 key updates to the MSC certification standard:

  1. Special considerations now ensure the protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs);
  2. MSC fisheries will no longer be at risk of generating cumulative negative impacts on bycatch species;
  3. Fisheries will need to regularly review alternative measures that could reduce the mortality of unwanted species in the catches;
  4. Strengthened requirements will ensure that shark finning is not occurring in MSC fisheries;
  5. An entirely new default standard has been introduced for the assessment of enhanced salmon fisheries, following six years of discussion with stakeholders;
  6. A new risk-based framework (RBF) assessment method for habitats is now available for use in data-limited situations;
  7. Revised surveillance audit and re-assessment requirements have been developed intended to minimize the assessment costs for fishery clients;
  8. An independent Peer Review College has been created to provide a more standardized and effective peer review process;
  9. Requirements have been added to provide more effective traceability of seafood products from fisheries into the supply chain;
  10. Companies successfully prosecuted for forced labor violations shall be ineligible for MSC certification.

“The MSC standard for sustainable fishing was created to ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and marine environments impacted by fishing, to the long-term benefit of fisheries and our oceans,” Agnew said. “As new research shapes and improves our understanding of marine life and fisheries science, it is crucial that the standard remains scientifically robust, effective and relevant.

Updated findings from the Fisheries Standard Review (FSR) and Speed and Cost Review (SCR) have been assessed and included in the new standards. Version 2.0 Certification Requirements will be used for third-party conformity assessment bodies (CABs) to evaluate fisheries within the MSC program for their sustainable practices and management long term.

The new certification requirements keep MSC fisheries consistent with internationally recognized best practices. The FSR has also allowed the MSC to stay in line with FAO ecolabeling guidelines and the ISEAL standard-setting code.

A shift towards more conscientious consumer spending and increased commitment from fisheries and companies such as McDonald’s has caused the number of products labeled as MSC-certified to more than double over the last five years — 10 percent of global wild-caught seafood now comes from fisheries that have been approved by the MSC. The MSC released two progress reports earlier this year (Global Impacts Report 2014 and their 2013-2014 Annual Report), which both report significant improvements in the marine environments engaged in the certification program. 


Hannah Ritchie is a graduate in Environmental Geoscience from the University of Edinburgh. She is now working towards an MSc in Carbon Management, with an interest developing a fair and equal model for working towards a sustainable future across the… [Read more about Hannah Ritchie]


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