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MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing

Euan Dunn"What attracts me to the MSC is how it can serve as a force to seriously reduce the environmental impact of fisheries, like curbing bycatch of seabirds and other marine wildlife."

Dr Euan Dunn
BirdLife International


The MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing is the standard that a fishery must meet to become certified. Only seafood from an MSC certified fishery can carry the blue MSC ecolabel.

•    Why is the MSC standard for sustainable fishing needed?
•    How was it developed?
•    Which fisheries does the MSC standard apply to?
•    What does it assess?
•    What does this mean in practice?
•    How are fisheries assessed against the MSC standard?
•    How long is each certificate valid for?
•    Download the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing
•    View all MSC documents
•    Contact us

Why is the MSC standard for sustainable fishing needed?

Throughout the world fisheries are using good management practices to safeguard jobs, secure fish stocks for the future and help to protect the marine environment. The science-based MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing offers fisheries a way to confirm sustainability, using a credible, independent, third-party assessment process. It means sustainable fisheries can be recognised and rewarded in the marketplace, and gives an assurance to buyers and consumers that their seafood comes from a well managed and sustainable source. 

How was it developed?

The MSC environmental standard was developed following an international consultation with stakeholders between 1997 and 1999. This consultation included eight regional workshops and two expert drafting sessions and involved more than 300 organisations and individuals around the world. The standard is based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and other international conservation instruments.

Read more about why you can trust the MSC ecolabel.

Which fisheries does the MSC standard apply to?

The MSC standard applies to wild-capture fisheries only – whatever their size, type or location but does not apply to farmed fish.

Find out more about which fisheries are eligible to apply for MSC certification.

What does it assess?

The MSC standard has 3 overarching principles that every fishery must prove that it meets:

Principle 1: Sustainable fish stocks
The fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population. Any certified fishery must operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources. 

Principle 2: Minimising environmental impact
Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.

Principle 3: Effective management
The fishery must meet all local, national and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability.

The three principles are supported by 31 more detailed criteria. Download the full MSC Principles and Criteria (PDF, 46kb).

What does this mean in practice?

Under the MSC program every fishery is measured against these principles. The actions that different fisheries take to show they meet the 3 principles vary in each case, taking into account the unique circumstances of the fishery.

For example, a fishery could be asked to show that:

Principle 1: It has reliable data on the age and gender patterns of fish populations to prevent too many young fish being caught and that other factors that affect the health of the stock – such as illegal fishing – have been considered.

Principle 2: Measures are in place to limit bycatch (living creatures caught unintentionally, including other fish species and marine animals such as turtles and dolphins). This could mean changing how fish trimmings are discarded so that seabirds are not drawn towards hazardous fishing gear.

Principle 3: Vessel owners have signed a Code of Conduct, shared GPS data, or undertaken research to ensure their fishery is well managed. Effective management also ensures that all vessels will, for example, change their fishing gear or respect closed zones, when required.

How are fisheries assessed against the MSC standard?

Fisheries that wish to get MSC certified appoint an independent, accredited certifiers to assess their fisheries against the MSC standard. When assessing fisheries, certifiers use the MSC certification requirements which establish how to assess fisheries against the MSC standard:

  • General requirements for all certifiers: Sets out the steps that accredited certifiers must take to assess a fishery against the MSC standard’s for sustainable fishing. These requirements comprise Part A of the certification requirements.
  • Fishery certification requirement: Sets out how the MSC standard for sustainable fishing should be interpreted when assessing fisheries for MSC certification. These include the steps in the assessment process as well as the assessment tree used to score fisheries. They are contained in Part C of the certification requirements.

Find out more about MSC’s third party certification process 

How long is each certificate valid for?  

When a fishery meets the MSC standard for sustainable fishing its certificate is valid for 5 years. During this period the performance of the fishery will be reviewed at least once a year to check that it continues to meet the MSC standard. After 5 years, the fishery must be reassessed in full if it wants to continue to be certified.

Ensuring MSC-labelled seafood comes from a sustainable fishery - Chain of Custody
Once a fishery has been certified, all companies in the supply chain – from boat to plate – that want to sell seafood from the fishery with the blue MSC ecolabel must be certified as meeting the MSC chain of custody standard. This ensures that only seafood from certified fisheries carries the MSC ecolabel.

Download the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing

All MSC documents

Contact us

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