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New MSC Report Spotlights Certification's Role in Delivering the SDGs

Image Credit: Lidl

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has released a new report highlighting the positive impact certification can have in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MSC Global Impacts Report 2017 details more than a thousand examples of positive change being made by certified fisheries to safeguard fish stocks and marine habitats.

According to the report, MSC certified fisheries target healthy or recovering fish stocks, target larger populations of fish in the years following certification and show less variability in the sustainability of target fish stocks than their non-certified peers.

The findings come ahead of the United Nations Oceans Conference, convening in New York next week to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. The MSC report presents governments, industry and NGOs with evidence for credible certification as a powerful tool to catalyze and secure improvements in marine fisheries.

“The MSC program provides both recognition and incentive for responsible ocean stewardship,” said Rupert Howes, Chief Executive at MSC. “Twenty years since the creation of the MSC, certified fisheries today account for 12 percent of global marine catch. MSC certified fisheries are targeting healthy and well-managed stocks. They are also safeguarding marine habitats and ecosystems through ongoing commitments to improve their performance.”

The MSC’s goal is for 20 percent of all wild-caught seafood to come from fisheries engaged in the MSC program by 2020. The report demonstrates that with the correct incentives and actions, fisheries can achieve the sustainable performance required to meet the SDGs.

A Catalyst for Change in Habitats and Ecosystems Management

Ninety-four percent of the fisheries entering into the MSC program have made at least one improvement to achieve or maintain certification, totaling more than 1,200 over the last 16 years. Of these, 117 actions by 39 fisheries contributed to improving habitat status, management and information. In total, MSC certified fisheries have been involved with 46 new scientific research projects geared toward better understanding of and minimizing impacts on habitats.

One such example is that of a cold-water prawn fishery in Greenland. The fishery launched a research project in partnership with the Zoological Society of London in response to a lack of information on sea floor habitats. Their work led to the discovery of a rich ecosystem and the trialing new measures to protect sea pens, in addition to the designation of a marine protected area to safeguard important corals and sponges.

“Investing in science and research has been a key part of the MSC’s journey over the past 20 years,” said Dr. David Agnew, Science and Standards Director at the MSC. “Fisheries science and management is constantly evolving. That’s why we systematically review and update our standards to reflect best practice in fisheries science. The revised edition of the MSC Fisheries Standard, released in 2014, features an increase in requirements for habitat protection.”

To date, 18 MSC certified fisheries have changed where and how they fish to minimize damage to seabed habitats, with some implementing voluntary closed areas in order to maintain certification.

Assurance in the Supply Chain

Sustainability is only one part of the equation. The MSC requires that certified seafood is traceable at every step of the value chain and checks the integrity of its chain of custody certification system regularly. A 2016 study commissioned by the MSC tested the DNA of fish sold in 122 UK fish and chip shops. The study revealed mislabeling at a rate of 1.64 percent in shops with an MSC certificate, compared to over 8 percent in non-certified shops. Overall DNA testing results since 2009 have shown near negligible (<1%) levels of mislabeling for MSC certified products, compared to a global average of 30 percent.

Still More to Do

More than half of fisheries which complete voluntary pre-assessment to the MSC Fisheries Standard do no progress to full assessment within 12 months, suggesting that significant work is needed before full certification can be obtained.

The MSC Global Impacts Report maps the location of certified fisheries in large marine ecosystems (LMEs) around the world, showing the proportion of MSC certified fisheries in areas of international importance to biodiversity. The maps reveal a need to support small-scale fisheries, particularly those in developing countries, on the road to sustainability. The MSC is developing new tools and investing in scientific research to support fisheries in achieving MSC certification.

In order for these initiatives to have impact at scale, the MSC encourages the international community meeting at the UN to support market-based incentive mechanisms, including certification, as an essential tool to contribute to realizing the SDGs. Consumers can do their part by choosing MSC-certified seafood.


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