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Fish stocks are healthy and well managed

Scientific analysis confirms MSC certified seafood harvested from healthy stocks.

A research paper, ‘Ecolabel conveys reliable information on fish stock health to seafood consumers’ was published 21 August 2012 in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The first comprehensive analysis of fish stocks targeted by MSC certified fisheries has concluded that stocks are healthy and well-managed to ensure continuing sustainability. The results confirm that MSC certification accurately identifies sustainable fisheries, and that the MSC ecolabel - currently appearing on over 15,000 products worldwide - continues to provide shoppers with reliable information about the health of fish stocks. 

Detailed comparison of certified and non-certified stocks

Led by the MSC and co-authored by independent scientists from universities around the world, the study is the most detailed and rigorous quantitative assessment to date of certified, wild-caught seafood in relation to the biological sustainability of targeted stocks. It compares catch data, fishing mortality rates and population levels for all stocks where this information was available - a total of 45 MSC certified and 177 uncertified stocks.

Key findings

The study’s key findings include:

  • The majority of MSC certified fisheries are maintaining stocks at high levels: nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of certified stocks are at or above the level that ensures the stock is at its most productive, compared with less than half (45 per cent) of uncertified stocks.
  • The fish stocks targeted by MSC certified fisheries have increased in abundance at a far faster rate than non-certified over the last ten years – an average growth of 46 per cent for certified stocks compared with just 9 per cent for uncertified. The cause of these differences is twofold. Although in some cases the increases have been generated as a direct response to conditions imposed through MSC certification, in others an already well-performing management system, with increasing stock abundance and favourable environmental conditions, has created the conditions whereby a fishery could be more easily certified.  
  • No stocks targeted by MSC certified fisheries are overfished (that is, where the population is below a safe biological level, at which point the stock may struggle to reproduce and repopulate itself). The one stock (Iberian sardine) which has been shown, in the annual audit required by the MSC certification program, to have fallen below this sustainable limit since its original assessment and certification, has had its MSC certificate suspended until the fishery can demonstrate clear improvements in the stock levels.

Gerd Hubold, scientist at the German von Thünen Institute of Agricultural Trade Policy and World Nutrition and former General Secretary of ICES, (the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), adds: "The sources and methods used in this study are internationally recognised and robust and its results are straightforward. To me the study shows that the MSC ecolabel is indeed a trustworthy mark for sustainably exploited fish stocks."

View or download full size versions of the diagrams below (PDF, 475kb)

MSC certified stocks diagram 2012

Non MSC certified stocks diagram 2012

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